Following many requests for help, Grammar Puss has decided to start a new blog for parents. Grammar Puss for parents

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Collective nouns and subject-verb agreement



A collective noun is a special type of noun which refers to a group of people or things.  Although these nouns denote individual members which can be considered as a whole, when using these we have a choice as to whether we treat the noun as a single entity grammatically, or as a collection of individuals.  Therefore, collective nouns behave differently from other nouns as they can take a singular or plural pronoun substitute depending on whether you wish to emphasize the group as a single entity, acting together, or a number of people or things acting individually.  When you have decided whether you will need to use the singular or plural pronoun, you can then make sure your verb agrees. 

In American English, the singular agreement with pronoun substitution and verb is more common.  In British English, either singular or plural agreement is acceptable, depending on the attitude of the writer to the group and the activity being undertaken: is the group acting in accord, or is there a measure of individuality with the actions of the group?  However, there are a few collective nouns which always take plural verbs in British English, the most common being ‘police’ and ‘people’ (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/matching-verbs-to-collective-nouns).

Let’s look at some examples of how the agreement can be varied with collective nouns according to the attitude being adopted. 

The army were unhappy with the changes to their uniforms.  (Here the writer is considering the individual feelings of the members.
The army was huge.  (Here the writer is considering the army as a single unit.)

The council is meeting on Friday to consider its response to the consultation.  (Here the council is considered as a single, impersonal entity engaging in a single enterprise to provide a single, collective response.)
The council are meeting on Friday to consider their response to the consultation.  (In this example, the council is considered as a group of individual councillors meeting to put forward their individual opinions and come to an agreement about their response.)

When using collective nouns, it is important to make sure that the verb is in agreement with any subsequent pronouns.  For example, in the sentence ‘The government  were disappointed with public reaction to its policy.’ Either the singular form of the verb ‘was’ should be used, or the pronoun ‘its’ should be changed to ‘their’.

The flexibility to take either singular or plural agreement is extended to collective nouns with a partitive structure (the collective noun is linked to a plural noun with ‘of’, e.g. a flock of sheep).  In the following examples, the first herd takes the plural, whereas the second takes the singular.

A herd of elephants begin to cross the fast flowing river.
A herd of elephants is called a parade.  (Another collective noun is ‘a parade of elephants’.)

So, singular or plural, context and writer attitude are key!


Saturday, 22 November 2014

spelled or spelt? Which past participle should I use?

For those teachers who asked me this on the verb course last week, I have now done a little research around the subject.

In British English, you can use either 'spelled' or 'spelt' as the past participle.  As we thought, this is the same as the 'burned/burnt' and 'learned/learnt' participles that were on the Irregular English Verbs sheet. 

American English uses 'spelled' as the past participle because, in America, 'spelt' is more commonly used to refer to a type of wheat.

Hope that helps!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Transitive and intransitive verbs


We have considered different sentence constructions using the five sentence elements S,V,O,C,A but, if you try to create some of these constructions using any verb, you will find that sometimes it can't be done.

For example, if you try to use the verb 'take' in a SV sentence, it will not make sense: He takes.  This sentence requires an object, informing the reader what has been taken.

Similarly, if you try to use the verb 'arrive' in a SVO sentence, it will not work:  The train arrives ...  If we want to add more information, we have to use an adverbial after this verb, e.g. at the station, on time, but cannot add another noun or noun phrase as an object.

Why is this?

When only one person or thing is involved in a sentence, this person/thing fills the subject position and is followed by an intransitive verb. 

When a second person or thing is affected by the action of the subject, this person/thing fills the object position in the sentence and a transitive verb is required.

There are some verbs which are normally used intransitively and some normally used transitively; however many verbs can be used in both ways.  For example, the verb 'pass can be used intransitively in the sentence 'Ships pass in the night.' and transitively in 'She passed the salt.'

The following table provides some examples of each.



Examples of verbs used intransitively and transitively
Intransitive verbs
Transitive verbs
Verbs which can be used intransitively and transitively
ache
avoid
blow
arrive
blame
call
bleed
carry
change
blush
cut
drive
die
damage
fly
disappear
design
follow
faint
discover
hurt
fidget
enjoy
lose
fall
fill
manage
happen
get
miss
kneel
give
move
quiver
make
pass
sleep
need
play
sneeze
put
run
throb
remove
stand
wait
take
study
weep
want
win