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The team is? The team are?

Using singular or plural with collective nouns

Collective nouns like family, team, couple, staff, company and government can be singular or plural. They are usually denoted as a singular thing, or uncountable nouns.

Which sounds better to you?

Our staff has/have been greatly praised recently.

The team is/are divided on this issue.

My family is/are coming to visit next week.

If you choose singular, you are probably more familiar with US English. If plural, British English. And if the emphasis is on the individuals rather than the group, we often use the plural.

For example:

The staff are angry about the new working arrangements.

The team are meeting next week to examine the proposal.

My family are always fighting among themselves.


The key point to remember in writing is consistency. Don’t switch between the two. For example, the following sentence is inconsistent because the subject and verb are singular in the first clause (The Government is) and plural in the second (they have) :

The Government is voting on the amendment next week, but they have not yet reached a consensus.

To be consistent, the sentence should be rewritten as either (a) or (b):

(a) The Government is voting on the amendment next week, but it has not yet reached a consensus.

(b) The Government are voting on the amendment next week, but they have not yet reached a consensus.

Carol Waites (PhD)
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Presentation/editing by Christina O’Shaughnessy (editor)

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