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Do we say the first generation of computers were or was invented? if the answer is (were), then why do we say the room of my brothers was built? generation is one thing.

  • You can say either. I'm sure there are plenty of questions regarding collective nouns on this site or on english.stackexchange.com you can look at. – Robusto Nov 12 '17 at 21:10
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    I do not think that a generation of computers can be invented. Could you use a better example? – AmE speaker Nov 13 '17 at 4:02
  • I think this depends on the dialect of English. In NAm English, many collective nouns are still identified as being singular at times, e.g. team. It sounds far more natural to my ear for "generation" to be singular. – Jim MacKenzie Nov 13 '17 at 5:17
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It may become clearer if you rearrange the sentence.

Let's talk about generations of computers. The first was invented ...

The first anything is a single item, and a unique single item at that, hence the use of "the" as the article. Rearrange it again.

Let's talk about computers. The first generation was invented ...

Generation might be used as a collective term, but it describes one thing. There are multiple generations, so each generation is one example of a generation (singular). Back to your sentence:

the first generation of computers was invented ...

"of computers" doesn't change anything, it just identifies what we're talking about. There are lots of computers (plural), but there was just one first generation of them. If you want to talk about computers instead of generations:

Computers were invented ...

Computers is plural.

The first computer was invented ...

Computer is singular, and the first one is "even more singular". (Is that like "extra virgin" olive oil?)

Now it gets interesting:

The first computers were invented ...

First is singular and computers is plural. This is like the chameleon that exploded trying to hide in a box of crayons. Since computers is plural, we're not talking about the very first individual one. In this usage, we're really not even talking about one "first" computer, we're talking about many first computers.

These are the computers in the first generation. We can include the word "generation" if we want to talk about the entire collection as a single class. But what if we want to refer to the computers, themselves, rather than the class (the trees vs. the forest)? That's the context of "the first computers". So that usage is plural.

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I think this is very similar to how we use the expression a number of something in English. The following is a perfectly grammatical example:

There are a number of things that I'd like to discuss with you.

In daily English, there are many times is substituted with there is. That pretty much has become the norm in spoken English. But the idea here is that we think of the first generation of something and a number of something as notions representing something that's made up of more than one thing. That's why, I think, you actually need a plural verb to go along with expressions like these.

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We would say "The first generation of computers were invented", because generation is a collective term and refers to multiple things, therefore we use the plural were.

If you didn't need to specify computers in the sentence, perhaps because it was in a preceding sentence, you would also say "The first generation were invented, ..." just as you would also say, "The first computers were invented" but would say "The first computer was invented, ..."

We would say "the room was built" because the room is singular.

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'Were' is the correct choice out of the two. However, it seems awkward to me to use 'generation' in this context A generation of computers is not invented in a group. Each computer is invented by itself. It's much clearer to leave the word 'generation' out and just say, 'The first computers were invented.'

  • The first electronic computers were developed considerably before the 1970s. – Michael Harvey May 23 '18 at 6:21
  • Fair enough - I copied that from another answer it seems, but it doesn't affect the grammar. – dwilli May 24 '18 at 2:10
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The first generation of home computers were invented in the 1970's.

The first popular home computer was manufactured by Abacus Brand.

  • The first + <singular> and were are incompatible: singular versus plural. – virolino Feb 5 at 11:13

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