Pronoun Agreement: Collective Nouns

Pronouns have to agree in number with the words they refer to (called their antecedents). That is, a pronoun must be singular when its antecedent is singular, and plural when its antecedent is plural. 

But when the antecedent is a singular collective noun, it can be difficult to decide whether the pronoun should be singular or plural. A collective noun names something that has many members or parts: for example, cast, committee, club, company, group, staff or team. Because these nouns include many members, they may have a plural meaning even when they are singular in form. 

Use these guidelines to decide on pronoun agreement with a collective noun.

Singular meaning

If the members of the group are acting as a unit, the noun will be singular and will take a singular pronoun:

The staff has achieved its goal of collecting $5,000 in the marathon.

The cast will present its final performance Sunday evening.

Plural meaning

If the members are acting individually, the noun has a plural meaning and will take a plural pronoun:

The staff have submitted their reports.

The cast tried on their costumes before the dress rehearsal.

Plural meaning is often indicated by the presence of plural nouns (like reports and costumes in the examples above).