If you've been following BE THE EDITOR on my Facebook page, you may have seen this common--but particularly fun and challenging if you're a geek like me--grammar puzzle!
Collective nouns include any word that you can put the word "members" after; these include words such as team, audience, family, committee, board, class, family, staff, and orchestra. But collective nouns also include words like majority, couple, management, and population. I could go on and on because English has close to 200 collective nouns.
Things to remember are that American and British English do have different approaches. I guide my approach to collective nouns with a book published in the States, but that was assigned to me in a Canadian editing course: Amy Einsohn's The Copyeditor's Handbook. I adore this book.
Use the singular verb when the members of the collective are acting as a group.
The family is at the lake.
"is" is singular
Use the plural verb when the members of the collective are acting as individuals.
The family are putting on their bathing suits.
"are" and "their" are plural
But sometimes this principle (which is not a hard-and-fast rule) produces sentences that sound awkward and are grating to the ear!
The class are being graded for their participation.
It's more accurate to say
Class members are being graded for their participation.
Meet the Editor
I'm Coreen, and I am a copy editor, writer, instructor, digital marketer, and student of PR and Communications for organizations doing positive work in the world.