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One or many?

'One or many' looks at collective agreements.

English verbs are usually rather simpler than in many other languages ~ but we still need to check we avoid using a plural verb with a singular subject, for instance. That may sound straightforward, but when the subject is a singular but Collective noun, many of us get 'interference' and put a plural verb after it.

You may be surprised how tricky it can be to get these right every time!

  1. Read both parts carefully and then decide whether everything is OK, or whether only one part is OK, or whether neither of them is OK ~ and mark your Answer accordingly.

    (A) 'My parents are going into town this evening ...
    (B) ... but me and Chris are staying home.'
    The verbs are fine each time, but 'me and Chris' is terrible! No speaker of decent English would ever think of saying 'me is staying', so 'me and anyone else are staying' is equally wrong (though plenty of people, particularly children and speakers of non-standard English) say similar things every day ~ alas!
    It should of course be: 'Chris and I' (along the lines of the Queen ~ guardian of 'the Queen's English' as she is ~ when she says 'my husband and I' have been doing something)!
  2. Read both parts carefully and then decide whether everything is OK, or whether only one part is OK, or whether neither of them is OK ~ and mark your Answer accordingly.

    (A) 'The right-of-centre press are claiming once again that ...
    (B) ... law and order is reaching breaking point in Britain.'
    The Press (or any subsection of it) is singular; law and order, while often treated as a single concept, still consists of two nouns and is therefore compound and plural.
    The correct version should read: 'The press is claiming ... that law and order are reaching ...'.
  3. Read both parts carefully and then decide whether everything is OK, or whether only one part is OK, or whether neither of them is OK ~ and mark your Answer accordingly.

    (A) 'Your Committee have decided ...
    (B) ... that they are going to disband the Society.'
    'Committee', itself, is a singular collective noun, so neither of the verbs should be plural.
    (See what we mean? The overall meaning's clear, but the grammar is trickier than you might think!)
  4. Read both parts carefully and then decide whether everything is OK, or whether only one part is OK, or whether neither of them is OK ~ and mark your Answer accordingly.

    (A) 'Sam's mum and dad was saying that ...
    (B) ... the cast of 'Doctor Proctor' are absolute rubbish!'
    'Dad was saying ...' is OK; but 'mum and dad [plural] WERE saying ...'.
    The cast of any show, meanwhile, is a collective entity, and therefore singular.
  5. Read both parts carefully and then decide whether everything is OK, or whether only one part is OK, or whether neither of them is OK ~ and mark your Answer accordingly.

    (A) 'A priceless collection of postage stamps have been stolen from the study of a manor-house in Kent ...
    (B) ... and the police have issued a description of a suspect wanted for questioning in connection with this incident.'
    Doubtless there were several stamps, but the collection is singular. In Part B, 'the police' is a singular noun but usually treated as plural, so this version is widely acceptable.
  6. Read both parts carefully and then decide whether everything is OK, or whether only one part is OK, or whether neither of them is OK ~ and mark your Answer accordingly.

    (A) 'A number of unexploded bombs have been found in a cave in Shropshire ...
    (B) ... and an Army Bomb Disposal Unit is at work on the scene to render it safe.'
    The 'number of bombs' is singular (whatever the actual number is: it could be just one piece, or maybe several dozen).
  7. Read both parts carefully and then decide whether everything is OK, or whether only one part is OK, or whether neither of them is OK ~ and mark your Answer accordingly.

    (A) 'My family has been farming this land since the days of Henry VIII ...
    (B) ... but the mill has been here for longer than that.'
    No problems here.
  8. Read both parts carefully and then decide whether everything is OK, or whether only one part is OK, or whether neither of them is OK ~ and mark your Answer accordingly.

    (A) 'The Government are saying that ...
    (B) ... bread prices are going up again in the New Year.'
    'The Government' is singular and needs a singular verb; bread prices are plural, so part (B) is OK.
  9. Read both parts carefully and then decide whether everything is OK, or whether only one part is OK, or whether neither of them is OK ~ and mark your Answer accordingly.

    (A) 'Our company pride themselves on producing traditional goods ...
    (B) ... that Jo(e) Public can afford and enjoy.'
    The Company is a singular entity (so 'themselves' is wrong), but 'Jo(e) Public' is a singular ~ imaginary, representative ~ person, so the singular verb 'can' is OK in Part B. (Actually, of course, 'can' would have been formed exactly the same in its 3rd-person singular or plural version anyway; but at least Part B works as it should!)
  10. Read both parts carefully and then decide whether everything is OK, or whether only one part is OK, or whether neither of them is OK ~ and mark your Answer accordingly.

    (A) ' 'No child of mine will ever grow up to park their car on my grass', ...
    (B) ... said Uncle Marcus as he and my father was watching us play with our scale models on the lawn.'
    The correct possessive after 'child' should be 'his or her' (or 'its', if we don't know the individual child's gender; but it somehow sounds very ugly to say 'no child should cry just because it's lost its toy) ~ so Part A was faulty.
    In part B, 'Uncle Marcus and my father WERE ..' would be better.

Author: Ian Miles

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