Today’s Grammar Rant

I have read a lot of statements like this lately:

“CNN are reporting…”

“The Free Software Foundation are encouraging…”

Slashdot is a terrible offender, but I’ve been seeing it elsewhere as well.

So what’s wrong with this? CNN is an organization. Singular. The correct construction is “CNN is reporting…” Your subject is singular, so your verb should be singular as well.

“The employees of CNN are reporting” is also correct.

I are annoyed each time I read something like this. Is you annoyed too?

9 thoughts on “Today’s Grammar Rant

  1. Actually, I believe it’s UK/US usage thing. In the UK, these forms are correct, whereas in the US, “is” is correct. I *think* it’s because we look on organisations as a *collective* body rather than a *singular* one. Just my 2p worth, of course :)

  2. In British English, CNN is not an organisation. CNN are a company, which in its turn is just a short form for “group of individuals working towards a single goal”. Thus, “CNN are reporting” is correct; it is the group of people that make up CNN that are doing the reporting, not a singular entity called CNN.

    The logic is that CNN wouldn’t do anything if the people that make up CNN didn’t do anything, thus it is reasonable to treat CNN as a convenient shorthand for “the people who make up the group CNN”.

    I believe that American English treats organisations as entities in their own right, thus making CNN and FSF singular.

  3. Treating collective nouns as plurals is the only logical solution. Using the singular might not appear particularly bad in the cases you’ve given, but when discussing bands or sports teams the use of the singular is simply illiterate.

    – Chris

    1. Wikipedia has an article on this. I think I read once awhile back that a UK government white paper was influential in this, but I can’t find a source.

      It still annoys me, though. If I say “CNN”, I’m referring to a single organization and, in my mind, it should always be singular. If I say “CNN reporters”, then that’s different. But hey, I’m just another American complaining about your language, right? ;-)

      But Chris, I’m going to have to disagree with you. U2 is a band — a single band — and is singular. U2 has members, so if you say “U2 members”, I could understand the plural. But to say that it is illiterate to refer to U2 in the singular seems to be over-reaching, don’t you think?

      1. Again, the example you’ve picked doesn’t prove the rule. Take “The Rolling Stones” or “The Miami Dolphins” and it looks ridiculous.

        And as a collective, there are times when you’re going to want to talk about only part of the group: what about if two members of U2 were afflicted with a stomach bug and couldn’t perform? Speaking of “half a band” isn’t any more sensible than speaking about “half a bee” when the collective is treated as a singular, so such a thing is much wordier to express. It isn’t difficult to come up with cases where the singular is awkward.

        – Chris

  4. So, once again we discover that natural language doesn’t use a minimal set of universal formal rules :-)

  5. FWIW, ever since I saw this difference between the UK and the US usages, I’ve always preferred the UK way. IMHO, it is very important to remind people that corporations are *not* individuals.

  6. Don’t start! The one I hate the most is when there is a shooting somewhere and the news says: “A man opened fire …”

    Imagine how hard it is to understand that line for a non-native English speaker.

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