Is the word "government" singular or plural? My grammar book tells me government is plural. And if you search on the web, it is not so unusual to be confused. So which of the following two sentences is correct?

The government have been taking necessary steps with a view to alleviating poverty.


The government has been taking necessary steps with a view to alleviating poverty.


My grammar book says that

Some nouns apparently look like singular, but they are actually plural and the verbs after those are also plural. These type of noun are: Peasantry, poultry, cattle, majority, people, public, mankind, government.

My grammar book is written in the native language, so I cannot give the reference.

  • @user149054 Please make sure to provide those kinds of details in your posts. You can edit your post to explain what your book says and what you found in your research, for example Cambridge Dictionary: government.
    – Em.
    Aug 19 '18 at 5:54
  • 1
    @JayA.Little: Trans-Atlantic difference in usage here, actually. Aug 19 '18 at 6:07
  • Which one can be considered without any dispute?
    – user149054
    Aug 19 '18 at 6:10
  • Interesting stuff! @NathanTuggy Thanks for pointing out the American vs British difference. Not so clear cut after all. Aug 19 '18 at 8:06

As an American I definitely thought this was simple. Found this and learned something new myself!

Matching verbs to Collective Nouns

In American English, most collective nouns are treated as singular, with a singular verb:
The government is doing a good job.

In British English, most collective nouns can be treated as singular or plural:
The government is doing a good job. [singular collective noun; singular verb]
The government are doing a good job. [plural collective noun; plural verb]

There are a few collective nouns (in both British and American English) that are always used with a plural verb, the most common of which are police and people:
It's been my experience that people are generally forgiving.
X It's been my experience that people is generally forgiving.

So since you're asking which is used without dispute, then it depends where you are or who you are speaking to.

For American English, it's definitely preferred to be a singular collective noun using singular verbs.

For British English, choosing which to use may depend on the context as this site suggests:

If you are using "government" and referring to it as one whole group, then use the singular verb. But if you are referring to the members of the group, then use the plural verb. (paraphrased)


Words like government, family, team are called collective nouns. These words can take either plural or singular verbs.

So if we think about any of these words as a singular entity, we should use a singular verb. For example:

My family wants to take a trip next Monday.

But if we are talking about the members of the group and we consider the word as a collection of individuals, we should use a plural noun:

The government are debating the tax proposal.

Her family are all doctors.

In the above example, the group refers to individual members.

  • 2
    You should clarify that this answer doesn't apply to American English, which does not use "the government are" much, if at all. Aug 19 '18 at 13:02
  • @NathanTuggy Ok, I didn't know that. I myself learned something new :)
    – helen
    Aug 19 '18 at 13:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.