Collective nouns can be used with both verb forms:
- Use singular for emphasizing the unity. You’re referring to one group.
- Use plural for emphasizing each member. You’re referring to several components at once.
- ○ My family is nice to strangers.
- ○ My family are nice to strangers.
Usually, we know exactly when to use a verb in its singular form or in its plural form. This depends only on the number of the according noun (the subject of the sentence). Occasionally, there are contexts where it is okay to violate this so-called verb-subject-agreement. We will show you two exemplary cases.
Units of Nouns Serving as the (Plural) Subject
Even if your sentence has a multi-word subject, you immediately consider one of the words the head of the noun phrase. In the following sentence, swarm is the main noun, determining the verb to be singular.
The swarm of bees was flying around.
In some subjects, this main noun is still grammatically the head of the phrase. Yet, more and more people use the plural form of the verb, as the following part of the subject might also be plural.
|Traditional agreement||Modern accepted use|
|I bought a bunch of flowers. Do you want to see it?||I bought a bunch of flowers. Do you want to see them?|
|The majority of ex-Soviet states still relies on the Russia economy.||The majority of ex-Soviet states still rely on the Russia economy.|
|A long set of environmental laws and regulations was still disregarded by the government.||A long set of environmental laws and regulations were still disregarded by the government.|
Perhaps the rules aren’t as strict anymore, as you can substitute all subjects in these sentences with they, which would require the plural verb agreement.
The Right Form for Percentages and Fractions
You can observe this phenomenon when using percentages and fractions to quantify study results. Grammatically speaking, proportions can be either singular or plural and conform to the number of the fraction:
One-third of the parliament has voted against the new bill.
Two-thirds of the parliament have voted in favor of it.
Nevertheless, using also the plural form with a singular fraction is quite common as the total consists of several parts, which requires a plural form.
If the word that follows is an uncountable noun or if the proportion is a part of a whole, the singular form is the preferred one.
If the total is a collectivity based on many individuals parts, the plural form would be the grammatically correct form.
50% of the pizza is mine.
Nearly 3% of all water on earth is ice.
Just 44% of all university students identify as male.
LanguageTool manages / manage to help you with the correct verb-subject-agreement. It tells you whenever a noun is uncountable or a collective word, and if you should prefer the singular or plural form of the companion verb. Try it out, and you will immediately improve your work (uncountable noun).