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We were taught at school that collective nouns can take a singular as well as plural verb depending on the use case of the sentence.

I'm really confused about this concept. I mean how do we know where it is plural or singular.

For eg: The Jury was/were divided in their opinions.

What is correct here, were or was?

Giving more examples while answering the question will really help a lot.

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  • It's not a matter of one plurality being "correct" and the other "incorrect". As this usage chart shows, was and were are about equally common before divided. But this chart massively favours the singular verb before instructed. Feb 20, 2023 at 11:43
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    ...as a Brit, I'm quite happy to use singular or plural for nouns like company, family, the police. So I justify the difference between those two charts by saying a divided jury has "subdivisions / parts", so it's fine to use plural. But they're instructed collectively, as a single group, not as multiple individuals whose views may differ. Feb 20, 2023 at 11:47
  • The British often use plural for some collective nouns. In US English, that is not common. By the way, we say also: jurors, countable.
    – Lambie
    Feb 20, 2023 at 17:26

1 Answer 1

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In this example, it feels right to use 'was'.

When you use a group noun as a plural it emphasises the individuality of the members of the group. For example, you might say "the jury are going home for the night", because they are all going to their individual homes, not to one place as a group.

But in the case of your example, the individual members are not divided - the group is. Each member must have their own individual opinion, either 'innocent' or 'guilty', so it is the consensus of the whole group that is split in two.

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  • Can you please support your answer with some more examples. Like what can we use here; The police has/have issued a notice or here; The police has/have arrested the thief.
    – khaxan
    Feb 20, 2023 at 18:16
  • @khaxan that's a very different and incomparable example, as 'The Police' is more than just a group noun for police officers. 'The Police' is the entire police force. It is the name of the public service. It can also be used with zero article. The answer would be to say "the police have", but I'm not adding that to my answer because it doesn't help your original question.
    – Astralbee
    Feb 20, 2023 at 18:37

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