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Isn't the following sentence grammatically correct?

The group of fifty people are going to arrive Thursday.

What's wrong with it? Someone said it should be

The group of fifty people is going to arrive Thursday.

Why? People is plural so why is people is better than people are?

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  • 4
    How do you feel about, "The box of chocolates are on the table."?
    – Jim
    Jan 29, 2013 at 4:02
  • The group of fifty people is going to and the fifty groups of one person each are going to. All that matters is whether the subject is singular or plural.
    – EllieK
    Apr 19, 2021 at 15:23

2 Answers 2

17

Strictly speaking, the subject of the verb here is the singular noun group; of fifty people is just a prepositional phrase modifying the noun. It is parsed as if it were written thus:

The group (of fifty people) is going to arrive Tuesday.

It's not that simple, however. For one thing, group is a collective noun, which may be construed as either a singular or a plural, depending on your emphasis.

This group is larger than that group. Here you are contrasting two groups as undivided wholes.
This group are all children. Here you are characterizing the members of the group.

So which verb you use really depends on what you mean; and that's something that can’t be judged from this little fragment of discourse. Including the phrase of fifty people might mean you are trying to emphasize the count:

There are fifty people, in a group, who are going to arrive on Tuesday.

On the other hand, the phrase may be parenthetical, just thrown in for additional information:

The group, which has fifty people, is going to arrive Tuesday.

Or the phrase may be restrictive:

The group of forty people is going to arrive Sunday; the group of fifty people is going to arrive Tuesday.

Say what you mean, and in this case at least you’ll be OK. As the great linguist H.Dumpty said, “Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.”

[NOTE: Speakers of British English are more likely to use the plural than speakers of American English. But both populations will understand you perfectly well, and hardly anybody will even notice which verb you use. Or care.]

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  • Not sure I agree with the note about British English; however one thing British English does require is "on" before the "Tuesday"; see also ell.stackexchange.com/questions/632/… Jan 29, 2013 at 10:30
  • @SteveMelnikoff Yah, I kept typing "on" and then taking it out to match OP's usage. Completely overlooked that I was two days late. I'm getting old and slow. Jan 29, 2013 at 13:06
  • Hmm, I was always taught that in American English, a collective noun is singular, period end of story. But if you go by the "if enough people do it that makes it right" rule, yeah.
    – Jay
    May 29, 2018 at 21:23
  • "There are fifty people, in a group, who are ..." is clearly correct because the subject of the clause is "fifty people". Interesting, though, if you remove the commas one could argue it either way. Are the fifty people going to arrive Tuesday, or is the group going to arrive Tuesday?
    – Jay
    May 29, 2018 at 21:26
7

The subject of the sentence is group, not people. The subject is people in the following sentence.

Fifty people are going to arrive Thursday.

Group is regarded as singular, so the verb should be declined for the third person singular, not for the third person plural.

Don't get confused from the word immediately preceding the verb; that word could be plural, but the subject be singular. For example, consider the following sentence:

One of my cousins visits the USA more often than I do.

The subject of the sentence is one of my cousins, a single person, and the verb must be declined as third singular person.

Keep in mind that, for example, news is generally regarded as singular, and neither of us is singular. The correct sentences would be then

The news is terrible.
Neither of us has seen your cousin.

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  • The data is conclusive.
    – user20483
    Nov 29, 2015 at 16:26
  • RE: Group is regarded as singular, so the verb should be declined for the third person singular, not for the third person plural. Michael Swan begs to differ. His book says: The following singular expressions also usually have plural verbs: a number of, a majority of, a couple of, a group of. The book also provides example sentences, such as: A lot of them were late, and, The rest of the members are ill.
    – Serge
    Apr 19, 2021 at 8:46

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