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1, The company are hoping to expand their operations abroad. (from a Longman dictionary)
2, The company is hoping to expand their operations abroad. (a native-speaker's preference)
3, The company is hoping to expand its operations abroad. (I wrote this)

4, When companies advertise a product, they depend on the use of images as well as words to achieve their goal of increasing sales. An image can be a symbol, character, or design—any visual figure or representation that will link the company with their product in the consumer’s mind. (from TOEFL official exam prep material)

5, ... that will link the company with its product in the consumer’s mind.(I wrote this)

After reading these two pages, I know that when used singularly, company refers to an entity. When used plurally, company refers to a group of people. So I think all five sentences above are correct.

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001874.html https://erinwrightwriting.com/singular-or-plural-pronouns-for-a-company/

But why it seems that the preferred version is their operations, their product?

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  • Can a British English speaker comment on this? I think that "the company is" vs. "the company are" might be a US/UK difference.
    – stangdon
    May 6, 2022 at 11:30
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    @Stangdon - I think there is a bit of nuance here. We British can say the team, company, government, jury etc are... regarding the noun as a collective noun that’s singular in form but can be treated as plural. But we can also treat these nouns as singular. You may find both singular and plural references to companies in British English, often in the same news story. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage (4th ed.) says “In British English it is in order to use either a plural verb or a singular verb after most collective nouns, so long as attendant pronouns are made to follow suit.” May 6, 2022 at 12:37
  • I'm not bothered by "is/are". I am curious why "their operations/product" is the first choice that came to these authors' minds, as if they are thinking people's operations/product, not an entity's operations/product. Maybe I overthink; it's just a preference.
    – joy2020
    May 6, 2022 at 14:59

2 Answers 2

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I add to what @Michael Harvey has rightly said.

Both singular and plural forms could be used here. Important is that 'attendant pronouns are made to follow suit'.

(1) and (4) follow notional agreement.

(2) shifts from grammatical agreement to notional agreement.

(3) and (5) follow grammatical agreement.

Except example (2), which does not have the consistency and is hence not recommended, the other examples are fine.

As for OP's query raised in the comments on the use of their, this use is fine. This possessive determiner can refer to things and is not restricted to people.

Collins Dictionary explains.

You use their to indicate that something belongs or relates to the group of people, animals, or things that you are talking about [emphasis added].

...as the trees shed their leaves and the year begins to die.

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Generally, in the United States we construe singular collective nouns (team, jury, company, etc.) as singular. In that case, sentences 1, 2, and 4 would be considered incorrect. Only sentences 3 and 5 (the ones that you wrote) would be considered correct.

The rule for agreement is much looser in British English, so you will often see sentences such as 1, 2, and 4. This is frequently called "notional agreement". (Americans sometimes do this, too, although it's not very common here and deprecated in many U.S. style and grammar guides.)

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