A troop of monkeys _____ coming towards us.

Which auxiliary verb should be here (is / are)?


3 Answers 3


An official site of Canada English grammar learning shows a similar question to yours and goes for the singular choice:

A huge swarm of locusts has destroyed the crops. enter image description here

But, in the Oxford dictionary site the following things are written:

In American English, most collective nouns are treated as singular, with a singular verb:

√ The whole family was at the table.

√ The government is doing a good job.

√ He prefers an audience that arrives without expectations.

In British English, most collective nouns can be treated as singular or plural:

The whole family was at the table.[singular collective noun; singular verb]

The whole family were at the table.[plural collective noun; plural verb]

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:

√ She's happy with the way the police have handled the case.

X She's happy with the way the police has handled the case.

√ It's been my experience that people are generally forgiving.

X It's been my experience that people is generally forgiving.

If you aren't sure whether to use a singular or a plural verb with a collective noun, look it up. Most dictionaries will tell you which is correct.

For more reading:

1) Practicing collective words matching.

2) Matching verbs to collectiv nouns - Oxforddictionaries


Conjugating verbs with collective nouns is complicated. While some might argue that a troop is singular, and the verb should be conjugated accordingly, in some places, like the UK, it depends on whether the focus is on the collection or on the individuals within the collection.

For example, in the UK it's not uncommon to read or hear something like:

The crowd are loving Ellie Goulding's amazing set at the Capital Summertime Ball

possibly because they feel that each of the people in the crowd, individually, is enjoying the music. However, in the US this would sound weird, and "crowd" would almost always be conjugated as singular:

The crowd is loving the music.

Nevertheless we in the US still use the plural with some collective nouns:

The police say they are investigating the incident.

Unfortunately this seems to be more about convention than any overarching rule. As a counter-example:

The government says it will reduce subsidies for electric vehicles.


I believe the other answers mentioning differences between British and American usage are not relevant to the situation you have. You have the form: article + mass-noun + of + other-noun

When a definite article, 'the', is used, the verb must agree with the other-noun. Thus:

The troop of monkeys are ... [because 'monkeys' is plural]

The amount of water is ... [because 'water' is singular]

There is no option with either of these in either British or American English. In this construction the 'the ... of' is functioning as a modifier of other- noun.

The situation is different when the indefinite article, 'a' or ‘an’, is used. Now, it is the mass-noun being modified by 'of other-noun'. Thus:

A troop of monkeys is/are ... Now it is optional whether a singular or plural verb is used.

In British, a singular verb is routinely used to show a collection is acting as a group, while a plural verb shows them acting as individuals.

In American, a singular verb is typically used, but it is not wrong to use the British style and prefer to plural verb. Note that CMoS says ‘typically’ below, not ‘always’.

This is from CMoS 5.9 Mass noun followed by a prepositional phrase

Mass nouns are sometimes followed by a prepositional phrase, such as number of plus a plural noun. The article that precedes the mass noun signals whether the mass noun or the number of the noun in the prepositional phrase controls the number of the verb. If a definite article (the) precedes, the mass noun controls, and typically a singular verb is used {the quantity of pizzas ordered this year has increased}. If an indefinite article (a or an) precedes, then the number of the noun in the prepositional phrase controls {a small percentage of the test takers have failed the exam}.

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