When referring to institutions (companies, colleges, universities) is it correct to use third person plural (they)? The first time I've ever seen such a thing was years ago here. Recently in a test I was supposed to complete the following statement with a possessive pronoun:

(...) The London University is poised to take the action because a 'high percentage' of ________ Islamic students regards drinking as 'immoral' (...)

Based on above I used their, however the teacher claims the correct pronoun is its.

Am I correct about such rule? Is it correct (perhaps not obligated) to use third person plural in this(these) case(s)?

While a similar question covers companies, I'm asking for institutions in general. It does not fit the given example (University).

  • 1
    @Tetsujin This is actually asking about its versus their. It's not asking about the following verb form, although I do think that's an interesting thing to ask about as well :-) – snailplane May 14 '15 at 19:04

In this sentence, the grammatical number of "the London University" has already been established.  The verb form "is poised" only agrees with a singular third-person subject.

It can be appropriate to treat a collective noun as plural.  British and American speakers tend to disagree about when it is appropriate.  However, that possibility is irrelevant to this sentence.

Because the phrasing "the London University is poised" has established that "the London University" is singular in this sentence, your only option is to use a singular genitive pronoun.  For a plural pronoun to be acceptable, the earlier phrasing would need to be "the London University are poised".

You didn't indicate which sentence on the cited web page was your model.  I can only assume that it's "Disney aren't lazy; they're geniuses."  You should note that this example is also consistent.  The words "aren't", "they're" and "geniuses" all agree with a plural "Disney".

It can be correct to treat a collective noun as either singular or plural.  It is not correct to treat the same referent as both singular and plural in the same context.  That need for consistency applies not only to the proper names of institutions but also to even simple, common collective nouns like "team" or "mob".

  • In the Disney example, the real meaning must be something like "Disney (people) aren't lazy; they're geniuses." "Disney" cannot be plural without some justification, regardless of what matches what. – user3169 May 14 '15 at 22:24
  • I assume your native dialect is as American as mine, @User3169. However, Oxford Dictionaries suggests that things are different across the pond. – Gary Botnovcan May 14 '15 at 23:07
  • If that is the case, this question should be tagged as british-english. – user3169 May 15 '15 at 0:26

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