Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Collective Nouns and Disappointed Audiences

Today’s topic, using pronouns with singular nouns that have plural meanings (like audience, jury or team), is easier to get wrong than you might think.

With collective nouns (as they are called), use singular pronouns if the represented group is acting or being described en masse: It was a hung jury and the audience showed its disappointment. You could proudly state at a board meeting, “the team achieved their goal,” but if you did, your team hitting its goal is the only thing to be proud of, as your grammar would be a shambles.

After the game, however, the team head to their homes, just as the hung jury head to theirs. Plural usage. The audience doesn't wave its hands; they wave their hands, each acting as individuals. 

There are ambiguous cases, and it depends on what you wish to suggest. You could say, “The audience showed its disappointment,” or “The audience showed their disappointment by throwing full or empty bottles, cups of ice, or whatever was in reach,” drawing a picture of mobocracy at the theater. Perhaps someone was texting.

Tomorrow we’ll consider collective noun usage with verbs and find out if your favorite band is an it or a they