A friend provided a link to this article, which is an amusing bit about the easter bunny punching someone in a mall. The conversation, however, eventually turned to this line in the article:
The couple were released from jail Sunday and have a May 2 county court hearing.
My esteemed colleague pointed out that this is a violation of correct subject-verb agreement, because “The couple” is singular and “were” is plural. “Not so fast,” I said — “The couple” is a collective noun, which makes the situation a bit fuzzy. A few quick internet searches provided the following rule:
Collective nouns such as class, faculty, committee, audience, crowd, family, team, couple, troop, jury name a class or group. If the group functions as a unit, treat the noun as singular; if the members of the group function individually, treat the noun as plural.
This is truly one of the weirder corners of the english language. Another point was brought up concerning musical groups and sports teams. My esteemed colleage pointed out how Rolling Stone is guilty of such nonsense as: “Phish are releasing a new album.” This, I agree, seems to be completely wrong. “Phish” should be treated as a singular, since it’s the group as a whole releasing a new album. But what about groups such as “The Doors?” What about sports teams with singular names, like the Minnesota “Wild?” Oh well, back to work.