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"The government are" instead of "the government is"

(16 Posts)
Greythorne Mon 03-Jan-11 22:19:28

Technically, I know it should be the government is / the staff is / the family is and NOT the government are / the staff are etc.

But as it is commonly accepted to say "are", would this be considered a mistake?

I know this problem is UK-specific and in the US, for example, it is usual to go with "is".

prism Mon 03-Jan-11 22:38:27

You can do either. "the government" is both a single item and a group of people, so it really depends on the context as to which you might choose. If you are simply saying what the government is doing without referring to any of the members of it, you would probably use "is", but if you are in the middle of talking about individual members of the government you'd probably use "are", as it would by then be odd to have drawn this picture of the government asa group of individuals and then refer to them with an 'is".


VictorianIce Tue 04-Jan-11 19:54:57

This is one of my pet annoyances. It's always done with football teams, for example. "Jimchester United ARE winning this thrilling match."

They are collective nouns, which are singular, so should have the singular verb form. However logic appears to be winning over grammar in this case, so I have to bite my tongue and try gracefully to let it wash over me.

hatwoman Tue 04-Jan-11 20:04:41

I hate the use of are with SINGULAR collective nouns. It is wrong - even if you've just been talking about individual members of government. I have noticed the bbc doing it increasingly and it bugs the hell out of me. and I can't agree that logic is winning. there is nothing logical about "the government are" - logic tells you that it's "the government is".

VictorianIce Tue 04-Jan-11 20:21:05

Sorry - that should have been "logic" in inverted commas. Personally, I agree with you.

prism Tue 04-Jan-11 21:10:03

Yes but you wouldn't say "the staff is on holiday" so I think you have to accept the possibility that sometimes "the government are" is actually the right thing to say.

Actually I don't know why I'm labouring this point- I completely agree that the vast majority of the time it should be "the government is" and it irritates me just as much as you when I hear it done wrong on the news. I just like to be pedantic about my pedantry.

hatwoman Tue 04-Jan-11 21:19:59

smile at prism

hatwoman Tue 04-Jan-11 21:21:56

I also agree that some correct usage sounds clumsy - like you say "the staff is" doesn't sound good. but the best approach to that is to restructure/rethink your sentence so as to avoid the horrible choice between clumsy and incorrect.

prism Tue 04-Jan-11 21:26:01

Yes, and sometimes you have to modify your construction to allow for subsidiary clauses. You could say "The government is putting up tuition fees" but you couldn't then expand this to "The government, who are a bunch of tossers, is putting up tuition fees".


hatwoman Tue 04-Jan-11 21:43:25

grin you could, however, say "the government, which comprises a bunch of tossers, is putting up tuition fees

prism Tue 04-Jan-11 22:35:07

Yes, indeed, and of course then there's the question of whether strictly speaking the government is a bunch of tossers. A whole other ball game, and likely to open a can of worms.

Greythorne Tue 04-Jan-11 22:50:43

in the US, they say exactly that: "the staff is excellent"

nickelbabyjesus Sat 08-Jan-11 14:35:33

they are singular - people do it a lot with company names: you wouldn't say "The Company are", you say "the Company is" so why do you say "Boot's are" it makes no sense.

It is "The government is..." that as government is a body, not lots of people.

JaquesTouatte Fri 04-Feb-11 02:01:32

Prism is right to say that either version is acceptable. To this end, the BBC have adopted a policy of consistency about how they treat such matters. Or should that be, the BBC has adopted a policy of consistency about how it treats such matters?

onimolap Tue 08-Feb-11 18:39:14

There is a class of nouns which, though singular in form, can encompass a plural meaning. Even OED acknowledges this now. I tend to prefer singular (to match form); both ways are in use.

chateauferret Sat 02-Jul-11 16:58:56

I would always tend to the singular verb in these cases, but then we come to how we treat "the police". I think everyone I know would say "the police are". I never even thought about it until I was taught that in German this is "Die Polizei ist" (singular verb).

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