In the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary there is an example for "get by":

We can get by with four computers at the moment, but we'll need a couple more when the new staff arrive.

(Emphasis changed.)

Shouldn't this be "arrives"?

  • 3
    Reading the title, I thought the question was why we don't write "he's", "she's", or "it's" as the possessive pronouns.
    – David K
    Mar 23, 2019 at 14:57
  • BrE has a practice of treating nouns for groups of people (even company or agency names) as plurals grammatically. Mar 23, 2019 at 20:32

4 Answers 4


In British English staff can be singular or plural. If it is the subject of a verb, this verb is plural.

The staff in this shop are very helpful.



I see from comments and from the answer by @Kshitij Singh that my answer does not cover all cases. I may have to rethink it.

It is a very good question. You can think of staff as an irregular plural.

We can correctly say:

When the sheep arrives we will put it in the paddock.

When the sheep arrive we can put them in the paddock.

This is is because 'sheep' is the plural of 'sheep'.

In the case of "staff", it acts as an irregular plural that has no singular form! The singular is "staff member".

Here you can see the usage in a dictionary:

Meaning of staff in English Contents staff noun UK ​ /stɑːf/ US ​ /stæf/ staff noun (PEOPLE) ​ A2 [ S, + sing/pl verb ] the group of people who work for an organization:

There is a good relationship between staff and pupils at the school.

The staff are not very happy about the latest pay increase.

There are over a hundred staff in the company.

He is on (= a member of) the editorial staff of the magazine.


Note that if you use 'staff' as a singular noun then you are indicating that it means a long substantial walking stick.

[ C ] formal a long, strong stick held in the hand that is used as a support when walking, as a weapon, or as a symbol of authority


  • 3
    Lots of US-centric style guides and grammar sites and blogs obstinately maintain that 'staff' is always singular. The issue also affects company names, teams, etc. Mar 23, 2019 at 12:36
  • 2
    @chasly - yes, exactly. Americans would say that. Mar 23, 2019 at 12:46
  • 2
    @chasly, you should address the OP's confusion by mentioning that staff is singular-only in American English, and may be singular or plural in British English. I am surprised you did not know this. Mar 23, 2019 at 12:49
  • 1
    As an American, “staff” and “team” behave like singular nouns for me, so this is accurate.
    – Mixolydian
    Mar 23, 2019 at 14:21
  • 1
    I didn't say there was anything wrong with "he is on the staff." I'm just saying that it would seem odd to me if "staff" were considered a plural noun in that usage. For example, would you write, "The staff are improved now that he is on them"? I would have written "is" and "it". Is that just an American thing?
    – David K
    Mar 23, 2019 at 19:58

In American English, I think both would be acceptable. Either the sentence is treating "the staff" as one entity, which is fine, or "the staff" as multiple staff members (or "staffers").

It reminds me of how the United States used to be plural until after the American Civil War ("The US are" vs "the US is"). A similar case would be "cast" (theatrical); "The cast is all college students" is acceptable, and "the cast put on the show once a night" is also perfectly fine, for example.


The innate sense of language overcomes the ill-defined grammar here, maybe. Staff "is" one group of multiple people. "A staff of 10" was seen as a problem above. But an orange is made of multiple segments ("people"). The natural thinking is one aggregate thing. I'm a bit more conflicted over datum vs data. Sadly, I mark people for "less" when they should say "fewer". Those, a meaningful distinction.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .