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Amelia and Jessie are a great team when they play tennis together.

Is this sentence correct or not? Team is a collective noun but the phrase "are a great team" seems to be out of order. How to deal with sentences like this in which there is "and" as in "Amelia and Jessie" so one expects it to have a plural linking verb but then there is a collective noun team which should expect a singular.

  • Yes, they are a great team is fine. If you're still in doubt, try to rephrase this: Jill and Jack are a great couple. You can't come up with anything better (logically), right? ;-) Another hint, if you search for "Kim and Pat are a good pair", Google could land you on a good book. – Damkerng T. Sep 29 '15 at 15:12
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The verb form (vb sg or vb pl) depends on the number of the subject and not on the number of the following noun complement. As the subject "Amelia and Jessie" clearly is plural you need "are". You can't say "Amelia and Jessie is a great team".

  • That is not always the case, though. See examples 26i and 26ii. – John B Sep 30 '15 at 4:54
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    For those that might not want to download a large PDF, on page 507 of the CGEL, example 26i is, "Eggs and bacon is my favorite breakfast." And 26ii is, "The hammer and sickle was flying over the Kremlin." The explanation they provide is that "the subject is conceptualized as a single unit and this determines the singular verb." – John B Sep 30 '15 at 5:12
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The correct word is are. I understand your confusion, though. There is a number disagreement between subject and predicate.

Using a plural verb in this case might seem to contradict CGEL's section on "Coordination with and" (Ch5 §18.4(a)) which might be misunderstood as saying the phrase a great team can only apply to the subject Amelia and Jessie "as a unit, and hence a plural verb is impossible." The key part of that override though is the subject needs to be conceptualized as a single unit.

In this case, despite the singular team, Amelia and Jessie are not seen as a single unit. They are understood to be separate members that are each part of the collective team. Since they are conceptualized as separate members, the verb should be plural.


More information about overriding subject-verb agreement and collective properties:

Ch5 §18.2 : Semantically motivated overrides with collective and number transparent nouns
The subsection, Complementation, in 18.2 has a list of more collective nouns.

Ch5 §19.1 : No agreement of number
This is particularly relevant to this question.

Ch5 §19.2 : Collective properties
This mainly discusses collective nouns in the subject but might still be helpful.

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