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I have found the use of audience in tag question which confused me. The sentence is

The audience listens to the bagpipes.

Then it has to be changed into tag question. The answer key said: "The audience listens to the bagpipes, don't they?"

Is it correct? If the audience is considered as a group of people, why does the sentence use "listens" instead of "listen"?

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If the audience is considered as a group of people

This is true, but audience is still a singular noun. Because it refers to a single group, not multiple groups.

The audiences listen to the bagpipes

There's where you'd use the plural noun form.

People means "multiple persons" (plural of person)

The people listen to the bagpipes


Then it has to be changed into tag question. The answer key said: "The audience listens to the bagpipes, don't they?"

It is an impersonal pronoun and can't be used to refer to people. This is a strongly observed convention in English.

Another situation where you really need a pronoun--but English is unhelpful--is if you don't know whether to choose between him or her - they/their/them has a tendency to be used. This is the "singular they" and the Wikipedia article shows examples of its use from the 1300's.

A potential employee would need to have passed their drug test to get hired (do not know whether employee is male or female).

"The audience listens to the bagpipes, doesn't it?" is not wrong, but since an audience is comprised of people, the temptation to do a similar thing to the "singular they" is strong.

It avoids any allusion that it might refer to the nearest non-human object, which are the bagpipes, to someone who isn't listening closely. Someone might even think doesn't it refers to something earlier in the conversation they may have missed.

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    And this is a perfect example of why English is illogical. I've heard both "the audience listen" and "the audience listens" (the latter is more common) and both "doesn't it?" and "don't they?" can be used, even where there is a lack of agreement with the "rule" used in the first part. ;) – Jason Bassford Jun 21 '18 at 15:36
  • @JasonBassford the first part is largely a dialect issue—British English tends to use the plural with groups ("Arsenal are footballers"), but American English almost always uses the singular ("Arsenal is a soccer team"). Though even Americans may use the plural for the ending confirmation depending on context ("Arsenal is on fire today, aren't they?") – Kevin Jun 21 '18 at 18:10

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