Australian Use of Collective Nouns

Mozilla is…

Mozilla has…

/grammar terrorist out


Pushing American? British/Australian English treats collective nouns per.


…treat. British and Australian English are two different things.

Mozilla the company is a singular entity, while Mozilla staff are plural - there are many people working at/for Mozilla.

In other words I disagree with that website - and a test shows that Grammarly also disagrees with it. Annoyingly, Microsoft Word has no problem with “Microsoft is…” or “Microsoft are…” - along with “Microsoft staff is…” and Microsoft staff are…".


Your dissenting opinion is noted.

In Australian English, the general rule for collective nouns is:

  • Use a singular verb when treating a collective noun as a single unit.
  • Use a plural verb when treating a collective noun as a group of individuals



Just to join the pedant club.
If a collective noun like “staff” describes people acting as a collective unit, then it is treated as singular, so “staff is” is correct. Although to me it sounds awkward, and I would typically use “staff are”.



Me was told it ‘pends on what school ‘ee was at, eh?

More personal experience suggests it also has a state by state preference, both in grammar, style and accent.

Some Aussies pride themselves on their ability to understand and interpret correctly nearly all versions of spoken English. That’s irrespective of whether it is ones first language or basic skill acquired subsequently.

There are historical examples of those seeking perfection through correction. The methods used and outcomes are rarely self-sustaining or appealing to the masses.


Many of those old rules were created by the pedants or borrowed by them from other languages such as Latin.

I think the best test of the quality of English is to ask if it is easily and correctly understood by the target audience and those around them. In the case of plurals of nouns it would be hard to construct an example where it was ambiguous so it doesn’t really matter. If you did make such a thing then reconsider your wording.

There are cases where modern trends in usage are not acceptable (to me now) because they necessarily create ambiguity (but in future they might not). A good example of the teeth-grinding kind (now) is to misuse “literally” to mean whatever you think it might mean but not for it to mean; actually, the real thing, word-for-word, without interpretation.

So we have “Tom was behind the wheel of his car and flying down the road” where “flying” is used figuratively to mean going very fast. Then we have “Tom was behind the wheel of his car and literally flying down the road”. Using “literally” there is intended to be an intensifier but only has the effect of confusing the issue as Tom was in his car and not actually flying no matter how fast it was going.

We could find many examples and counter examples but for me the clarity rule decides nearly every case without too much bother or searching for long dead authorities.

1 Like

Staff as a noun is a rather unusual word.
In some meanings it is singular, and the plural is “staves”. As in staff as a pole, or in music notation. Staffs as a plural also. Like flagstaffs.
In the use in employees, it is indeterminant whether it is singular or plural, like sheep, or bison.
You can explicitly make it clear whether it is one employee or multiple by using “is” for the singular and “are” for the plural.
Which is common sense to me, and stuff the formal rules.

1 Like

In such an instance, once would refer to “the staff is”.

“Staff of XYZ are today striking for better pay and conditions” vs. “The staff of XYZ is today on strike for better pay and conditions”. And generally the latter would be wrong because I cannot think of any strike in which all staff of an entity were involved.

Who needs history? I continue to seek perfection. It may be as far away as ever, but it remains my Impossible Dream.

The road had collapsed during a storm, and so Tom was (very briefly) ‘flying down’ (i.e. falling to the ground below)

FTFY :wink:.

A nicer variant these days is T,FTFY. :rofl:

Decades ago I participated in time-speed-distance road rallies in the USA. True story, a car got lost and was making up time in the farmlands of western Ohio. Speed limits were rarely enforced in those counties and temptation got the better of him. He literally flew past a radar trap located just beyond a hill crest, instigated by irate politically powerful farmers who were used to seeing a few vehicles a day rather than scores per hour. He was ticketed and disqualified.

1 Like

Common sense, assuming there is no ambiguity. Context can also be exceptionally relevant as you suggest. ‘Passing the staff’ is but one example open to interpretation, (not so common these days). There are occasions of having to pass more than one at the same time, still referred to as passing the staff, no plural required.

One of histories more benign and least successful seekers of domination.

Since we are discussing “collective nouns” and the general populations’ ignorance of them, may I toss in a slight diversion and ask why is the expression “the data are being downloaded” used?
It sounds perfectly silly!
Datum is the singular.
Data is the plural.
Therefore it ought be “the data is being downloaded”.
Data (plural) thus a collective noun, thus it is singular, thus use of the word is.

If one insists on saying “data are being downloaded” then the correct form should be “the datums are being downloaded”.


1 Like

Think of “data” as a synonym of “information”. Who actually ever uses the word “datum” anyway?
It is similar to the silliness about “dice” and the singular “die”.

Surveyors, both as the singular ‘datum’ and plural ‘datums’. Common sense from a profession reliant on precision in all things. :wink:


Yes who ever says “the information are being downloaded”
And these
1 x Hippopotamus
2 x Hippopotami
1 x virus
2 x virii
A very common error is
1 x fish
2 x fishes
When you can have as many fish as you like and its stil fish.

I don’t see the relevance to whether ‘data’ is treated as singular or plural. There are a very long list of nouns you could put in place of ‘datum’, ‘data’ or ‘information’ in that sentence and only a few have the inherited Latin plurals to confuse things.

1 Like

The use of it in the sense of a single item of information is fairly rare and probably a bit pedantic but in surveying and construction it is commonly used to indicate a reference point or level. So building foundations or plans for construction of boats (and other things) can have a datum line, or just a datum.

1 Like

But the word datum as a reference point or line is a different meaning to datum as a single piece of data as in information.
I have never heard anyone use it in the ICT field.

1 Like

Neither have I, although Wikipedia has it’s own thoughts on the matter.

The flexibility and adaptability of Words in the English language knows no bounds.

Ultimately common usage triumphs over any notion that English is rational or follows strict rules of grammar. I suspect that is much to the annoyance of those who seek order out of chaos. We’d all likely be clones if they had their way? :rofl:

‘Data are’ grates and ‘data is’ does not. It’s because of what we were taught. ‘Are’ and ‘is’ both convey the same intent. Minor annoyances compared to the major disaster of English phonetics, which are often word dependant.

The French, Germans et al assign genders to the names of common objects. In English the use of ‘is or are’ etc based on singular and plurals is equally pointless.