Here’s a current quandary of mine that I urge you readers (if there are any!) to comment on.
The October-November issue of Copyediting: Because Language Matters advises not to apply conventional rules about collective nouns too stringently or your writing will come off as jarring.
This is the example:
“Here’s hoping that this year’s crop of economic
advisers has the courage of their convictions.”
Here’s the advice:
“The word has . . . should be have. . . . It is really
a case of notional agreement: a crop of advisers
is notionally plural, which we can see because
‘their convictions,’ an instinctive use, so clearly
refers to the people and not to the noun (crop)
used for the group.”
I agree with this argument entirely. I’ve long felt that if the individuals and their actions within a collective are being emphasized, then a plural verb is correct. If it’s the single entity that is most important, then stick to the rigid singular. Remember to be consistent and don’t mix a singular verb with a plural pronoun in the same sentence.
“A new generation of scientists have begun a serious
assault on the mysteries of the canopy, and it will be
a pleasure to travel with them vicariously.”
“A smorgasbord of fruits plucked from the canopy
in Borneo owes its abundance to bats.” [both from NGM,
Now, here’s my quandary: Should I allow the argument of notational agreement to extend to companies, organizations, governments, and other single entities made up of individuals? For example, in a 2002 political cartoon by Tom Toles this statement emanates from Air Force One:
“We won control of Congress, but they are more
confused than ever.”
Or this example from a memo I recently received:
“The venerable Chautauqua Institution in upstate
New York is dedicating an entire week of their
nine-week summer program to literature.”
Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage defends this construction in an entry titled “on agreement: organizations considered as collective nouns.” Not only is it OK to treat companies as plural, but mixing a singular verb with a plural pronoun is permitted.
I’m not quite there—yet. What are your thoughts?