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). Jun 6, 2018 at 10:33
  • you should have written it as an answer. It did clarify things for me. Thanks.
    – user18593
    Jun 7, 2018 at 12:54

2 Answers 2


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, 2018 at 14:44
  • The problem here is that students develop reading skills, but categories can't read.
    – J.R.
    Jun 6, 2018 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, 2018 at 12:53
  • @user18593 — True. I focused on 'its' and missed that most elementary one. Aug 14, 2018 at 17:05

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