Language question

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A question for all you language gurus out there: when discussing a corporation or university or other institution, do you conjugate as a singular or as a plural? Basically, which is correct, "Microsoft is releasing product X", or "Microsoft are releasing product X"?

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i'm no entymologist, but "is" sounds right to me. and why are you up? the wee one wailing?

Collective nouns, such as "Microsoft" or "The US Government," are generally, in American usage, conjugated as singulars. So "is" is correct. In British english, however, it is common to see them conjugated with the plural. So the answer to your question is, it depends who your primary audience is. Given that most of the world is more familiar with American usage than British, unless you're writing for a Commonwealth nation, stick with the "is."

Definitely 'is'.

Unfortunately many people use 'are' where it should be 'is'.

I think it might depend on the context. If you're using the name as an abbreviation for 'the members of the board of Microsoft', then a plual might be justified. Suppose, for instance, that they were talking about whether to go public in their stock (which happened a long time ago). It seems ok to me to say that Microsoft are debating that policy. It also seems ok to say that Microsoft is debating the policy.

With bands, you get the same problem, unless the name of the band is already plural (the Beatles, the Rolling Stones). You can't say that the Rolling Stones is a band. The Rolling Stones are a band. It's perfectly fine to say that Kansas is a band. You might say that Kansas are debating whether to record a new album this year, because you're abbreviating 'the members of Kansas' with 'Kansas'. If you're talking about the band as a unit, though, it seems to me that plural sounds fine. "Kansas are America's premier progressive rock band" just sounds wrong to my ears. Maybe it doesn't to a Brit, but I just can't hear someone saying that and having it sound ok.

I think that with corporate entities the usage is always singular. The corporate entity is technically a legal individual and all references should be treated as such. I know that governmental agencies and branches are treated in the same way. So you might say 'the members of the board of Microsoft are debating X', but you wouldn't say 'Microsoft are debating X'. Similarly you might say the "the Social Security Administration is X', or 'the Court is X'.

When you use a collective term, the proper usage is singular. It's only if you refer to the members of the group that you use the singular. "My family is stopping by your place on the way home," but "My wife and kids are stopping by your place on the way home." Here's a quick Google reference. It suggests that if you can't decide, use a different word or add "members" to make it clear you should use the plural. For example, it sounds just WRONG to me when you say, "Microsoft are debating that policy," but if you said, "The members of Microsoft's board are debating that policy" it would be correct. Microsoft itself (the company or the board) acts as a unit, so if you refer to Microsoft I would think generally you would use the singular (Microsoft is releasing a new windows update, etc.); only when you refer to members of the board/employees etc. are you referring to more than one entity, and only then can you use the singular. Unless you want people to think you don't know this, you probably shouldn't abbreviate "the members of Microsoft's board" as "Microsoft" because it will cause you to use a case which would otherwise be wrong.

Let me rephrase that last point: If Microsoft ordinarily refers to a single entity (Microsoft Corporation), which you would ordinarily refer to in the singular, it seems unwise to use it as an abbreviation for its MEMBERS, who you would ordinarily refer to in the plural, since it will inevitably lead to the sort of confusion that you're dealing with.
Another example: Suppose I want to use "the gang" as a synonym for "the guys". I would ordinarily say "the gang is shooting up the place" (since the gang is a collective) but "the guys are shooting up the place" since "the guys" are individuals. But if I say they're synonymous, I might be tempted to say "the gang are shooting up the place" which is incorrect since "the gang" is a collective.

I guess I was wrong to refer to the phenomenon I'm talking about as an abbreviation. It's a lacuna (or ellipsis). We do this all the time, actually. We leave out words that are simply understood, and it doesn't make grammatical sense otherwise.

A common example would be an imperative sentence with just the verb and no subject. In elementary school, they tell us that the subject is understood but left out. It's not that the verb abbreviates the whole sentence. It's that you don't need the subject to be mentioned because people know what it is. That's a lacuna. Every sentence has a subject, and these do too, but they just don't have it explicitly. It's assumed.

I think the same sort of thing is going on in a sentence like "The 9-11 Commission concluded their investigation." The plural pronoun doesn't agree with the subject, but nothing seems wrong with the sentence at all. That's because you're assuming that it's the members of the commission who are doing it. There's a lacuna there. The understood sentence is something more like "The members of the 9-11 Commission concluded their investigation." We just wouldn't say that when we can say the shorter thing.

Thanks guys. Andrew's comment about American vs British usage solved my problem for me. I kept encountering the plural verbs associated with companies and was confused becuase it sounded terribly wrong to me. But the people writing the articles I was reading were professional writers. So I figured that they must know something that I don't. Turns out that those particular writers are British and Australian, which explains why they conjgated those words differently than I as an American would.

enoch - I wrote this post PST, but Jeremy's server is EST, so it looks like I sayed up much later than I actually did. Plus, the clock on his server may be a little off b/c I recall going to bed before midnight. I have however, been sleeping horribly and 3 AM is not an uncommon time to find me still awake nowadays.

I think the clock on the host server might be a few minutes off. I'll post something and then look back at the time it lists, and that time hasn't happened yet by my computer's clock. It's only a few minutes off, though, not over 17.

The server is actually on GMT, though, not EST. I have the blog set to adjust to EST. Somewhere in the blog editing software it will show the GMT time. I can't remember where. It's not in the post editing. Maybe it's in the exporting function.

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