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AH reads: staff, n. A group of assistants to a manager, executive, or other person in authority.

Four staff moves at Vanquish Recruitment.

What is the meaning of "four staff" in the headline above:

  1. Four groups of assistants to a manager moves ...

  2. Four staff members move(s) at Vanquish Recruitment.

If that means 2 case, is the 's' needed to inflect the verb 'move'? If not, why is the 's' used in the above headline.

Also, since 'staff' in a not countable noun, is it correct to say 'four staff'?

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  • Can you provide more context?
    – Renan
    Mar 5, 2013 at 21:50
  • @Renan, thank you for having asked more context with the intent, I believe, to post an answer, but I'm looking for general rules governing the "staff" usage, not for its usage in a given context.
    – user114
    Mar 5, 2013 at 21:58
  • As A@Jay surmises, this is a noun phrase serving as a headline, not a sentence. Mar 5, 2013 at 23:33
  • Most uncountable nouns turn out to be countable if you force it, and this changes the definition of the word.
    – Joshua
    Jul 16, 2017 at 21:24

2 Answers 2

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It is not "four staff", it is "four moves". "Four" and "staff" are both adjectives modifying "moves". While "move" is normally a verb, in this case it is being used as a noun. "A move" here means the movement of someone or something -- a member of the staff in this case.

The text as given is not a complete sentence because it has no verb. In context, it may be a title. It would not be surprising to see "Four Staff Moves at Vanquish", and then underneath this to be a list of the four people moved.

I suppose that as the sentence is given out of context, it is also possible that it is a mistake in one way or another. Without more context, it would be hard to say what the intent was if that's the case.

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  • 2
    Since it's a recruitment place, I would guess that this might be some kind of tally of hires / fires / changing of position, which might explain why it is not a complete sentence. A agree that it is "four moves"; a fuller sentence might be "Vanquish Recruitment has assisted companies with four staff moves in the past month." Mar 5, 2013 at 22:08
  • @TrishRempel A plausible guess, but in fact the moves took place at VR ... see the link in my comment to the question. Otherwise, you and Jay are spot on. Mar 5, 2013 at 23:35
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    Re: "In context, it may be a title": Not just "may be"; the question explicitly says that it's a headline.
    – ruakh
    Mar 6, 2013 at 0:39
  • @ruakh Good point. I glossed over that. Doesn't change my answer though.
    – Jay
    Mar 6, 2013 at 21:55
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Without further context, the most obvious meaning to the sentence is that the staff, as a whole, have experienced four moves. Consider:

The staff have moved four times this past year.

Four staff moves have occurred this year.

"Staff" is a plural noun, even if the number of employees is zero or one. The usage of "staff" as a singular noun does occur (I don't have a reference to point at, unfortunately) but it is far preferable to refer to "staff members" or "a member of the staff". This avoids the uncertainty you encountered in your original sentence.

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    Interesting. I would have said "the staff has" is AmE and "the staff have" is BrE, but your profile says you're American. (I am, as well.) Do you think I'm mistaken on this point?
    – user230
    Mar 6, 2013 at 1:05
  • @snailplane That's a point. It is in fact a question that's been raised before on ELU, now that I go hunting for it. In my personal experience, the American usage has always been accompanied by other subtle grammatical errors, which may have led to unconscious bias against it. I'll put some thought into revising my answer to better reflect this. Mar 7, 2013 at 14:06

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