Advanced English Grammar: Collective Nouns ARE the English police looking for you? Or IS the English police looking for you? In this English grammar lesson we will look at how to use collective nouns like STAFF and COUPLE, and of course, police, in the correct way with their matching verbs. Take a quiz on this lesson here:


Hi, welcome again to I’m Adam. I have another great lesson for you today based on a request… a few requests actually from our site. Today we’re going to look at collective nouns. An example of a collective noun: “staff”, “police”, “audience”, “family”. These are nouns that might include individual members or be looked at as a whole unit. Okay? So: “staff” means the total group of employees or it could mean each individual employee. So, now you’re thinking: “Okay, well, good. What’s the problem?” The problem is: what verb do you use with these nouns? Do you use a singular verb or do you use a plural verb? Okay?

So, for example: do you say: “The staff was invited to the BBQ.” or do you say: “The staff were invited to the BBQ.”? I’m afraid I have to tell you there’s actually no rule that decides this. What decides this is you. What do you want to say? What is your intention? Do you want to talk about the individuals or do you want to talk about the group? So, for example, look at this sentence: “My staff consists of young and old alike.” “Alike” is basically like “both”, both young and old. Now, why am I using the singular? Because here, I’m talking about my entire staff, my whole collection of employees. Right? So I’m probably going to use the singular because I’m talking about the one unit. Here, I could say both; I could say: “My staff”, my entire unit of employees or I could talk about all the individual people who work for me were invited to the BBQ. So, again, it’s more about what you want to intend… What you want to say, what you intend. Sorry, you don’t want to intend anything. Okay?

Here’s another example: “My family are going to be citizens soon.” “My family was invited to a wedding.” I have a plural, I have the singular; it depends what you want to say. “My family” – means all the members of my family – “are going to be citizens soon.” It makes a bit more sense when you also have the plural here, “are” and “citizens”. It sounds a little bit more natural. “My family was invited to the wedding.” The Smiths, we… My family is the Smiths, so when the invitation came, the Smiths are cordially invited to attend the wedding of Jack and Jill who last week went up the hill. I’m not sure if you know this little poem. Anyway, so the same thing goes for “police”, “audience”, “couple”, “faculty”. Lots of collective nouns. Depends what you want to say. Now, usually… And keep in mind: this is also difficult for native English speakers to decide which one. Keep in mind that usually in the U.S. and Canada, most people will automatically choose the singular: “The staff is”, “The police is”, again, depending on the situation. In the U.K., they will naturally or usually go for the plural: “The staff are”, “The police are”.

Now, again, let’s look at: “police”. I’ll give you two examples. Somebody was bothering my neighbour. Okay? And like they were like making noise. My neighbour asked the person to leave. The person wouldn’t leave, so she called the police. They – the police – they came and removed this person. But, I have to be very careful driving these days because the police is cracking down on texters; people who drive and text. I don’t do that, but I’ve seen them around. Right? So this… You have to be careful which meaning you want to use. Sometimes it’ll be very natural, like I would only use the singular here because I’m talking about the whole unit. Here, both okay. Do you want to talk about the individuals? Do you want to talk about the group, the whole group? Now, if you want to be specific, if you very clearly want to show that you’re talking about the individuals, add a word: “staff members”, “family members”, “police officers”. If you add these words that show the individuals, you will have absolutely no problem. If I say: “staff members”, obviously the verb will be plural because this is now the main subject. And “staff” becomes the adjective, “family” becomes the adjective. Okay? If I say: “police officers”, “police” becomes the adjective, this is my subject, and I’m going to use a plural verb. If I want to say one person, one police officer, then of course I’m going to be talking… using the singular. Okay? So, again, very straightforward. Whatever you intend to do, that’s what will help you choose the verb. But if you’re not sure, go to: There’s a quiz there where you can get a little bit more practice. And, of course, visit my YouTube site, subscribe if you like. And I’ll see you again real soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *