I came across a sentence in a reputed grammar book today that read like this -

This category of students have not developed their reading skills.

I know that the sentence sounds right and I've followed a similar structure myself multiple times while talking to people but for some reason, I felt that there was something wrong with the way category of was used here. Since we are talking about the students here and not the category, shouldn't the sentence be -

The students of this category have not developed their reading skills.

To give you a bit of perspective - the author had divided all the students in 4 categories, depending upon their reading skills, in the preceding paragraph and in this one, he was talking about the second category of students.

  • 2
    If you google collective nouns you will find that most authorities concur that the choice of singular or plural verbs depends on the context rather than any rule. But I disagree with the answer below which suggests the plural have with the singular its. It's either have...their or has....its although some might prefer has...their (with the singular their). – Ronald Sole Jun 6 '18 at 10:33
  • you should have written it as an answer. It did clarify things for me. Thanks. – user18593 Jun 7 '18 at 12:54

Given a choice between:

this category of students have not developed their reading skills


the students of this category have not developed their reading skills

I would personally prefer the second choice. The first choice, whether grammatically correct or not, caused me to reread the contents to be sure that I fully understood what the writer meant. The second choice did not possess this level of ambiguity, so I could more easily understand its meaning in one reading.

If I were to make any change at all, it would be to drop "the" before "students" and change the preposition from "of" to "in", e.g.:

students in this category have not developed their reading skills

but that is getting down to matters of style rather than matters of substance.


What about : 'this category of students have not developed its reading skills'?

I should not think 'category' should be considered a collective, but rather a neutral substantive, which tends indeeds to reify the individuals included in the 'category'but sounds grammatically correct to my ears.

  • Then it should be "has not", shouldn't it? Anyway, "(the) students in this category" is much better, polemic wise, isn't it? – Victor B. Jun 6 '18 at 14:44
  • The problem here is that students develop reading skills, but categories can't read. – J.R. Jun 6 '18 at 17:59
  • since you are using the verb 'have' in your sentence, you are treating category as a plural, in which case, its is incorrect because it stands for a singular noun. – user18593 Jun 7 '18 at 12:53
  • @user18593 — True. I focused on 'its' and missed that most elementary one. – Brice Coustillas Aug 14 '18 at 17:05

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