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The Lions are a shadow of their former self.

The Lions are a shadow of their former selves.

I am not sure if both are correct, because technically you can say "their self", but something tells me I might be wrong on this. What do you think?

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The Lions is a team. As a team, it can be treated as a singular concept. The team's name is a collective proper noun. However, if it is singular, it needs to be singular throughout the context:

The Lions is a shadow of its former self.

On the other hand, "the Lions" is a plural construction. When treated as a plural concept, it remains plural throughout the context:

The Lions are a shadow of their former selves.

Different dialects have different views about when it is natural to treat a collective noun as singular or plural.

 

I can think of only one context in which the phrasing "their self" works. The singular they is used exclusively for a person, as an option that avoids the gender marking of he and she.

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  • Agreed. In Australian English, for example, “The Brisbane Lions are a shadow of there former selves.” is certainly the correct and idiomatic form (nothing to do with whether it’s true or not - I don’t follow AFL!). Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 3:51
  • Even in the U.S., we would use are and they for a team whose name is a plural (like the Lions). Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 13:20

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