Monday, September 20, 2010

The Young

The headline above (Straits Times Online, 13 September 2010) contains a subject–verb agreement error; make it S’pore young worry MM.

The relevant sense of young here is ‘young people considered as a group’, hence it is equivalent to (one of the senses of) youth and is a collective noun.

How could we find out the grammatical properties of a noun, or indeed of any other grammatical category?  Here’s where a good learner’s dictionary comes in handy.  The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, for example, marks young as ‘[pl.]’, meaning that it is grammatically plural; accordingly, it should be followed by a plural verb.


Fox said...

One rule of thumb that I use is: what pronoun can I use in place of the proper noun.

Example 1:

"S’pore young worry MM" can be replaced by "They worry MM".

Example 2:

"Spain were defeated by England in the 2nd round" can be replaced by "They were defeated by England in the 2nd round".

Example 3:
"Spain is south of France" can be replaced by "It is south of France".

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi, Fox

Yes, that's a very good rule of thumb. It works well if you follow the British practice of choosing between a singular and a plural verb, depending on whether you're viewing the collective as a single unit (singular) or as individuals (the so-called 'notional plural').

However, in American English, collective nouns are usually treated as singular, but this doesn't stop speakers from using plural pronouns subsequently, leading to such mismatches as 'The Los Angeles Lakers IS the only team worth watching as THEY rarely disappoint'.

Singapore English largely follows the American practice of treating collectives as singular, except in sports reporting (i.e. team + plural verb) -- no doubt a result of the English Premier League craze!

Fox said...

I prefer the British usage because it is less ambiguous.

Yes. I live in America and tried once to explain to my co-workers and friends that the proper noun should agree with the pronoun to be used. A friend of mine was puzzled as to why the BBC kept using plural tenses with 'Spain', 'England', etc in the recent World Cup. The penny dropped after I pointed out that the BBC uses third-person plural pronouns and tenses when referring to governments, sports teams, etc. It was the American usage that was irregular.

I think the problem is that the words like 'team' or 'government' are not explicitly plural. Hence, there is a preference to treat them as singular nouns.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Maybe we can argue that the American system is more regular, whereas the British is more logical!

I think a useful distinction can be made, for example, between (a) and (b):

(a) The committee HAS made a decision.

(b) The committee ARE always bickering.

In (a), a singular verb is used as it's the committee as a single unit that comes to a decision, whereas in (b), it's plural because the individuals that form the committee bicker among themselves (the committee as a single entity can't bicker with itself).

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