The sentence is from a dialog in Friends where the phone rings, Monica answers it, they want Racheal, and Monica tells Racheal this sentence:

“It's the Visa card people.”

Is "people" not a collective noun? If yes, shouldn't they're be used instead of it's here?

  • In this case the "it" refers to the person on the other end of the phone line. – C.J. Jackson Jul 14 '17 at 20:35
  • Actually, as Diamond notes, "people" is a collective noun. As such, it is treated like a singular subject, hence the use of "It's" (it is) instead of "They're" (they are). – Alexander Jul 14 '17 at 20:38
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    Not at all. The idea of saying "People is" is not in contention. "People" is well and truly plural. The subject of the sentence is "it", not "people". The real question is why you don't say "they are". And the answer is that when you're first identifying someone or something, you say "it". Only by the next sentence can you use the right pronoun: "It's the Visa card people. They want to speak to you." – Luke Sawczak Jul 14 '17 at 22:44

The verb ("is") is conjugated based on the subject of the sentence ("it") not the predicate noun ("people").

For example:

  • The girls are a team.
  • The team is all girls.
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    Yes, this is closer to the truth. It has nothing to do with whether you have one person or several on the other hand. You'd also say, "Who's at the door? Oh, it's the boys from across the street!" Or "I see something on the horizon... No, it's five different things!" – Luke Sawczak Jul 14 '17 at 22:37
  • Er... the other end. Anyhow... – Luke Sawczak Jul 14 '17 at 22:44
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    Good explanation, except "people" is technically not an "object" in this sentence. It is called a "subject complement" or "predicate noun". This is a bit of a nitpick, but it matters in some contexts. For example, we must say "Who is it?": "*Whom is it?" would be incorrect, even though "whom" can be used for the object of a transitive verb, because "is" is not a transitive verb. – sumelic Jul 15 '17 at 0:02
  • But you don't say this is apples; instead, you say these are apples. Thus, it seems that the subject complement decides what the subject should be. Or there are apples. – Diamond Jul 17 '17 at 20:36
  • @Diamond It overlaps with this, but ultimately their behaviour is not comparable. – Luke Sawczak Jul 17 '17 at 20:38

There is only a single person on the phone. So, if you knew them and their name was John you'd say, "It's John." In this case the single person represents a company. You don't know their name (or possibly don't care) and so you refer to them as "Visa card people", but it is still a single person.

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