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In the four years that the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, it was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century.

I am surprised by the usage "it" ("it was responsible") in my sentence, where "it" here stands for the Khmer Rouge that were/was the ethnic and political group of many people.

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This is an example of the semantic number, and the grammatical number not being the same

You may use "it" and "was", to agree with the grammatically singular "Khmer Rouge", or you may use "they" and "were" to agree with the semantically plural "Khmer Rouge". Both are correct.

For example, from TIME:

Simultaneously, the Khmer Rouge were planning the steps necessary for a radical shift to an agrarian society

Or Britania.com

The Khmer Rouge was the strongest partner in this coalition, which carried on guerrilla warfare until 1991.

In American English it is more common to follow the grammatical number (Americans would be more likely to say "The government is...") British speakers are more likely to follow the semantic number (Britons are more likely to say "the government are"). But this is not a hard rule, and there is a lot of variation on both sides of the Atlantic.

It can be used to add nuance "The Khmer Rouge was..." suggests that it was a single body that acted like a unit, rather than an association of different people.

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    Solid answer and I upvote. "It can be used to add nuance "The Khmer Rouge was..." suggests that it was a single body that acted like a unit, rather than an association of different people." __ In fact it seems to have acted as a unit, a single-minded deadly organism, judging by the ideological dogma and the ruthless destruction, rather than an association of independently thinking individuals, so 'it' might well be appropriate here @James K! – English Student Dec 24 '17 at 15:30
  • I notice that "rouge" itself is singular. – Jeff Morrow Dec 24 '17 at 18:03
  • In French "rouge" is an adjective, and it doesn't have number. – James K Dec 24 '17 at 21:27

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