This is a really good question. It came to me from reader Bailee?
There is a subject I am really hoping you could cover for me on your blog, since I’m sure you would do a better job than I would. The topic is singular collective nouns. I am driven to the point of madness every morning when I listen to my local rock station, because the DJ insists on referring to bands whose names would be a singular collective noun in a plural sense. For example, she recently said, “Radiohead are releasing a new album.” Radiohead is a group, and “group” is a singular collective noun. Thus, it should be, “Radiohead is releasing a new album.” She does this all the time, and I am always thinking about writing a letter to her, but I’m sure I wouldn’t explain it very well. However, I think you would probably do great.
Forgive me for any grammar errors in my email, as I’m only a novice grammar Nazi. I hope to hear from you soon.
This is tough.
Let’s start with an example. The word band can be used as a singular collective noun. Let’s say, for example, that you had plans to see your favorite band in concert.
- Singular: My favorite band is in town, so I’m going to see it.
- Plural: My favorite band are in town, so I’m going to see them.
Neither of those sound right to me, even though they seem to be grammatically correct.
I’m going to turn to the fabulous and useful Language Log. Here is what the writers had to say on the subject:
Like most Americans, I prefer singular verb agreement for collective nouns like family and committee, unless the meaning of the phrase emphasizes semantic multiplicity, as in “My family all live in North America”. When the meaning is neutral or emphasizes unity, I strongly prefer the singular: “My family is gathering in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving”. However, I can’t imagine writing or saying “#My family is gathering in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving, and I’m preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal for it.” The problem is not that the sentence is ungrammatical, but rather that it doesn’t say what I mean. I prepare the meal for them, not for it.
So, would I say that Pink Floyd is appearing in concert? Or that Pink Floyd are appearing in concert?
Dear lord. I think I would say either. WHAT does that MEAN?!?!
Click here to read the rest of the Language Log’s analysis. Seeing all those research notes makes me shudder. It brings back traumatic memories of the 30-page research paper I had to write for my “Understanding the Sacred in Literature” class at Fairfield.
I’ll let them handle the heavy research.
In conclusion, I think that being able to say that your favorite band is in town and you’re going to see them has become so accepted in our language that it has become reality.
As for bands, Bailee, I wish I could answer your question better. I don’t see anything wrong with saying Radiohead are any more than Radiohead is.
For now, you might want to hold off on that letter to the station.
And, just because:
YES!!!!! GO, COOKIE!!!!! This is the first time that my favorite contestant has won American Idol, so I’m very excited!! (I haven’t had luck in the past with Clay, Constantine, Elliott and Sanjaya…shut up!!)