Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My grammatical revelation

On Sunday morning I was sitting in bed enjoying my second cup of tea (yes, I'm spoiled) when I had a blinding revelation: church is a singular noun.

I consider myself to be reasonably proficient in my grammar and punctuation but I have a few blind spots. One of them is my inability to choose the correct form of the verb to go with collective nouns such as team or church (when it's used in the early Christian way, meaning the people who followed Jesus).

So the revelation/realisation that church is a singular noun - and therefore simple to deal with - is more blinding than it might appear to you.

e.g. The church is meeting to pray on Sunday.

I felt a great weight lifted off my shoulders.

Until I consulted Fowler's English Usage. It says, 'In BrE it is in order to use either a plural verb or a singular verb after most collective nouns ...'

My Good English Guide says the same thing.

So that's my revelation floored. And it's back to what sounds right. The experts do offer some more helpful advice.

It can depend on whether you're thinking of the collective noun as a unit or as individuals within a unit. And if the items that make up the collective noun are inanimate, then the verb is always singular.

It does go on to say that the important thing is to make sure any attendant pronouns follow suit.

e.g. The church is meeting to pray to its God on Sunday OR The church are meeting to pray to their God on Sunday.

So that's clear then. I can go on holiday knowing I'm one step closer to grammatical perfection.

I am remarkably well-organised for this holiday as you can see by the fact that I'm blogging minutes before we leave. I am rather like the Queen in this respect - although I haven't won two bars of soap in a raffle. My holidays are organised for me. Husband is a gem.


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Yes, it's about what sounds right - most of the time.

Winston said...

Interesting, but I must say that to my American ears, "the church are..." sounds very wrong.

Another interesting difference in usage between UK and US is application of an article to some words. You say, "she will go to university", whereas we will always add an article in front, as "she will go to the university". I seem to remember that this is true of a few other words, such as hospital, perhaps.

Mauigirl said...

Agree with Winston, the use of a plural verb with collective nouns like church or government is an English thing; in America it would always be single.

Yes, "to university" and "in hospital" are also British.

MaryB said...

It's an English-English thing. American-English doesn't pluralize a singular noun (even if it represents a collective of sorts). I'm always thrown off to hear business news in the UK "Exxon are . . . " etc.

And can we settle the pronunciation/spelling(?) of aluminum and medicine? Probably not. ;-)

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