Microsoft show ‘faster’ Windows 7, proclaims the headline (BBC News, 2 September 2009).
While this may look like a subject–verb agreement error to many readers, in British English it is in fact correct.
That’s because British English very often uses plural verbs with what appear to be singular collective nouns, where singular verbs would be the norm in Singapore English and American English.
A collective noun is essentially a group of animate individuals, who may function as individuals (+ plural verb) or as a single unit (+ singular verb). Common collective nouns include staff, crew, group, team, committee, family, flock, police, public, audience, police, army, media, class, institution, university, and businesses (e.g. Microsoft above).
British English often allows a choice between a singular or a plural verb. A singular verb is preferred if the emphasis is on the unit as a single entity, e.g. The committee is undecided, while a plural verb suggests that its members are acting as individuals, e.g. My committee are always quarrelling among themselves.
Collective nouns like police always take plural verbs in British English, as do sports teams, e.g. Argentina have qualified for the World Cup. Singapore English generally favours singular verbs, except in sports reporting, in which it is clearly influenced by British English.
Some collective nouns are always singular in form, e.g. police (not *polices). Others are countable (singular or plural), e.g. family/families, group/groups. Yet others are only rarely found in the plural, e.g. staff/staffs, crew/crews, meaning two or more sets of staff/crew (not staff/crew members ), as in The staffs of the White House and Downing Street.