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I have a piece of exercise requesting me to write a question with who.

Coldplay - they’re my favourite band. -> Who is/ are your favourite band?

I wonder if I should use is or are, because band is singular, but the question starts with who, and band refers to a group of people. I think it should be what is your favorite band?, but I am requested to use who, so it’s quite confusing.

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Band is a countable noun that represents a group of musicians.

As you know, countable nouns can be used in singular or plural. There's a difference, between singular and plural, when we use nouns representing groups of people (like band).

For example:

There were two bands at the festival.

That means two groups of musicians, not two musicians.

Another example:

There was only one band at the festival.

In this case, no native English speaker would understand that sentence meant there was only one musician.

Back to your question, band is singular, so you should use:

Who is your favourite band?

I think your confusion comes from that band is singular, but a band consists of many musicians (so plural). The consequence is that you still see band as plural, not as a singular noun that represents a group of musicians.

Furthermore, although I am not a native English speaker, anyway Who is your favourite band? sounds odd to me. So far I've only heard something like this instead:

What is your favourite band?

  • I have trouble with the question, but not the answer which is a part of the exercise. – Thanhgiang Oct 16 '18 at 8:48
  • @Thanhgiang Sorry, I updated the answer. – Alberto Solano Oct 16 '18 at 8:54
  • I'm not sure this is correct - the dictionary definition of "band" says it is "a countable noun [with singular or plural verb]". So it is not exclusively singular. – Astralbee Oct 16 '18 at 10:32
  • @Astralbee Yes, I know it's not uncountable. I meant that's singular in this particular case, but perhaps it wasn't clear enough in what I wrote. I'll update my answer. – Alberto Solano Oct 16 '18 at 11:03
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    @AlbertoSolano Feel free if you like. You sort of say the same thing but I was trying to make it more explicit. – Jay Oct 16 '18 at 17:55
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When it comes to groups or collections of people, how you refer to them can depend on how much you want to emphasise or deemphasise the members' individuality. This has been discussed on SE here.

Both "band" and "group" are collectable, countable nouns so all reasoning in the linked question applies here. There are times when a band or group "are in agreement" - and one cannot be in agreement with oneself, so it makes no sense to use the singular.

I think it would be quite acceptable to ask "What is your favourite band?", but in your example, it should be "are", because as you say the question must be phrased with who:

Who are your favourite band?

The band is a group of people, and when using "who" (as opposed to "what") you are emphasising the people rather than the collective noun.

If you were enquiring about a favourite solo artist you would ask:

Who is your favourite artist/singer?

You could answer either way:

Coldplay is my favourite band

Coldplay are my favourite band

One is simply referring to "Coldplay" as a collective noun, the other just highlights that there are individuals in that group.

Something else to consider is this possible follow-up question:

Who are Coldplay?

The answer from Wikipedia:

Coldplay are a British rock band formed in 1996 by lead singer and pianist Chris Martin and lead guitarist Jonny Buckland at University College London.

As you can see, the question always determines the answer.

I think the problem with this whole topic of discussion is that when people ask this question in real life situations they cannot possibly know what your answer will be. How do they know you love a band, and not a solo artist? You could be asked who your favourite artist is (singular) and reply with the name of a group! It is important to understand all this, but for the purpose of answering your grammar question I believe the correct answer should be "who are your favourite band".

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We've had other questions about use of plural and singular verbs with collective nouns. I am told that in British English, it is common to use a plural verb with a collective noun when one wants to highlight the individual members. But in American English, this is considered simply wrong. A collective noun always takes a singular verb. Well, assuming we are talking about one instance of the collection. That is, I would say, "The band performs at the concert", NOT "The band perform". If there were two bands, then it becomes plural, "The bands perform", but it's plural because there are two instances of the collection, not because there are multiple members in each collection.

In your case, you may be creating confusion because a collection like a band is not normally referred to as "who", but as "what". English speakers do not normally ask, "Who is your favorite band?", but rather "What is your favorite band?" Likewise we would NOT ask, "Who is the biggest corporation in the world?" but "What is the biggest ..." But the "rules" are vague. It is common to say, for example, "Who makes the Fwacbar model cell phone?", and to expect a reply of "Babnar Company", and not "Fred Jones". And if someone did ask, "Who is your favorite band?", few would find this puzzling or difficult to understand.

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