I read the following examples from Oxford Learner‘s Thesaurus:

The health authorities are investigating the problem.

Someone reported him to the immigration authorities .

You have to get permission from the local planning authorities.

He was detained by the Cuban authorities.

I tend to interpret the term authority in all of the above examples as a certain government department, hence the singular form authority seems to me more appropriate than the plural authorities. However, the Thesaurus interprets the authorities as a somewhat conventional expression for the people who have the power to make decisions or who have a particular of responsibility in a country or region. I feel very difficult to follow the Thesaurus‘s interpretation: from my point of view, people who are vested with administrative or political power act for certain government departments and therefore, they should be identified, when performing their duties, not as individual persons but as the government itself.

Could anyone help to clarify/explain why the plural form authorities is used in the quoted examples instead of the singular form authority?

p.s. I come from a culture which is drastically different from those of English speaking nations and I can imagine there be wide difference between my conception of the notion authority and that by an English mind. My difficulty in understanding the usage of the plural authorities probably has association with cultural difference.

  • I would suggest that when we say "the immigration authorities" or "the local authorities" we do not envision an abstract agency but an organization of (faceless) individuals who have been invested with authority.
    – TimR
    Jan 14, 2018 at 10:02

1 Answer 1


In your examples the authorities are the people in charge of the service.

It can be used in the singular or plural. These could be used interchangeably - "The planning authority is . . ." - "The planning authorities are . . .". There is a subtle difference inferred however, since the plural refers to a group of people who are in charge, rather than a single institution.

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