A family of rabbits is playing in the garden.

Here can I use are instead of is? According to Combridge dictionary, is or are is correct here, right? [C, + sing/pl verb]: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/family


1 Answer 1


Strictly speaking, "is" is correct because "family" is a collective term. "A family" is singular. 'Rabbits' is plural, but this is just acting as an attributive noun - "a family of rabbits" is essentially the same as saying "a rabbit family".

  • Rabbits are playing in the garden
  • A family is playing in the garden.

The exception you refer to in British English is that collective nouns are sometimes treated as plurals, but this depends on the context and the emphasis you want to make. If the emphasis is on the collective being singular of purpose, it tends to be singular, for example, "the government is backing the proposal" suggests that 'the government' (a group of people) is 'of one mind', behind a proposal. On the other hand, in British English it is allowable to use collectives as a plural, and this can emphasise the individuality of the members, for example "the government are currently debating the issue" emphasises that, in a debate or discussion, individuals may put exchange differing points of view.

  • But in the Combridge dictionary, its usage is described as follow: [+ sing/pl verb]: A noun that refers to a group of people acting collectively. When used in the singular it can be followed by either a singular or a plural verb in British English. In American English a singular verb is preferred.
    – Jones
    Jul 1, 2021 at 8:59
  • American English requires the singular verb to be used -- you can't get by with a family of rabbits are here. Jul 1, 2021 at 9:14
  • Could you tell me if a plural verb can be used in British English according to the Combridge dictionary?
    – Jones
    Jul 1, 2021 at 9:26
  • @jones understood. I've updated the answer. I don't think your example was very well suited to using 'are' in British English so I've added in what I consider a better one.
    – Astralbee
    Jul 1, 2021 at 10:48
  • 1
    @Jones Cambridge is a respectable English dictionary, and my BrEng dictionary of choice. It is absolutely correct, you could use either. If you have to make a choice, consider what you want to emphasise - their collective nature as a family, or the individuality of its members. If you don't think about it and say either, British speakers won't consider it wrong.
    – Astralbee
    Jul 1, 2021 at 11:31

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