Sunday, May 09, 2010

[The Life of Shaun #403] Collective plural

This is for the grammar nerds amongst us; the rest can comfortably hit delete now.

Hopefully (ie, it is hoped) you watched this week's American Idol for a live example.  If so, you would have heard when Simon Cowell said "The band were good..."

Very shortly after moving here I heard this construction, incorrect in the American vernacular, which I, rightly or not, call the 'collective plural'.  I watched AI with a Dutch and an American friend (since no British people live in London) and Simon's comment triggered a discussion about this topic.

In America, we would say "The band was good", and here they say "The band were good."  Garret (American) took it as a cultural grammatical difference, Lottie (Dutch) considered it just incorrect.  I pointed out that they say it like that on the BBC and, therefore, it's correct (everyone agreed).

But the conversation got interesting (to those of our ilk) when I counterpointed their grammatical arguments with my thoughts on it.  When I first heard a comment along the lines of "The team were on form tonight" or somesuch, my thought didn't wander immediately to the grammar. I thought "Oh, in America, when we refer to the team, we think of the unit. Here, they think of the individuals that make up the team."  Different perspective.

And then I quietly went along, slowly and unconsciously adapting the collective plural, until the conversation came up tonight. Lottie and Garret had never thought of it in the same light as I had.  So is it a grammatical difference, or a social/perspective difference? If the latter, there might be a PhD topic there.

Would love to hear thoughts from the aforementioned grammar nerds out there.


Shaun H. Coley
Shadwell, Tower Hamlets
London, UK

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1 comment:

Eric said...

We would enter into discussion of your point, but We were forced to reach for Our smelling salts after your misjustification of the heinous "hopefully". The fact that "everyone uses it that way" (and We Our Own Self Personally are guilty of it in speech, but not, we hope (see how easy it is?) in writing) does not make it correct.