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Are group nouns like team or police singular or plural?

The team (is/are ) preparing for the next game.
Police (is/are ) looking for the suspects.

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Group nouns are a bit tricky in English. We call them "collective nouns,"* as they usually represent plural quantities. "Team" is a collective noun, as it represents a group of people. However, "team" is singular**, as there can be more than one team (teams). The singular form of "to be" for this situation would be "is." "Police," although it is also a collective noun, it defaults to "are,"since there is no widely used plural form.

In summary, here's a checklist*** for dealing with words that might be collective nouns:

  1. Does the word typically represent a group of items? (Ex: furniture, police, team)
    • If yes, continue to 2.
    • If no, it is not a collective noun.
  2. Does the word have a widely used plural form? (Ex: team)
    • If yes, it is (technically) a collective noun. (Use "is," when the word is in singular form)
    • If no, continue to 3.
  3. Can the word have an indefinite article?
    • If yes, it is not a collective noun.
    • If no, it is a collective noun. (Use "are")

*Not to be confused with mass nouns, which are nouns that can't have plurals (often because they can't be counted). Ex. happiness, china (the dishware), furniture
**As a commenter noted, there may be a difference in British English. I am writing from the perspective of American English.
***If you have a way to improve this checklist (I was a bit tired when I wrote this), feel free to comment your suggestions!

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