In the sentence below, the word "competition" refers to art student peers in other art schools. "Competition" feels like a singular group of people, which means I'd use the verb "was" vs "were." But I'm not confident this is correct since it refers to a lot of people, and also "were" just sounds correct. Would someone please let me know if this use of "competition" is singular or plural? Thanks!

The teacher advised his advanced students that their competition in other art schools was “getting much more training and would be way out in front of the pack.”

  • 2
    This is an American vs British difference. In America we usually use singular for groups, in the UK they often use plural. "was" sounds right to me as an American.
    – Barmar
    Aug 18, 2022 at 21:50
  • It's "competition" that is a singular noun. No matter how many students compete, there is assumed to be one competition amongst them all. Aug 19, 2022 at 1:52
  • As a Canadian, "were" sounds better to me
    – gotube
    Aug 19, 2022 at 4:19

1 Answer 1


As you note, "competition" is singular, so it takes a singular verb in this sentence ("was"). This is standard for American English.

In British English, collective nouns and other nouns that refer to multiple items might be construed as plural even when they are singular in form. As Barmar has noted in a comment, this practice is common and pretty unremarkable in Britain but widely considered incorrect in the U.S.

This issue has been discussed elsewhere on this site, e.g.:

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