Friday, February 3, 2012

Max are asking a question on their blog

One of the most noticeable differences between British English and American English, American readers soon discover, is the assigning of a plural verb to a singular subject. Here's an example I saw today on a Danish website:

"The Center for Fundamental Living Technology at SDU (University of Southern Denmark) have updated their web page!"

An American writer (or speaker) would say "has" and "its." We are taught early on that subject and verb numbers must agree, and there is only one "Center" in the subject of the above sentence. On the other hand, we would say, "Dick and Jane" HAVE changed THEIR website.

Without looking for an actual example, I am assuming you would say, "Dick HAS changed HIS website" or "Max IS asking a question on HIS blog." Yet, when dealing with the name of a company or organization, British usage always seems to call for a plural verb. I suppose you assume many people make up that company or organization, but that would be, it seems to me, irrelevant to the rules of grammar, even if you assumed correctly - since you are not talking about the 93 people who work for the organization; you are talking about one organization.

I have searched the rules for this without success - have only been able to find the American rules - so I will put it to the very knowledgeable readers of this blog. Harken back to your Primary School days and tell me if there is some sort of logic that I am missing in the British way of mixing of noun/verb numbers? I want to learn to really write right right now.


  1. That explains it, of course. Dang Danes. Copied it from their website and pasted it. So Centre is plural then. Now I get it. :)

  2. Collective nouns are the source of your problem. Didn't you study collective nouns in your Primary School days? No, nor did I, but I did eventually.

  3. Before you jump down my throat:
    "In British English, it is generally accepted that collective nouns can take either singular or plural verb forms depending on the context"

  4. Dunno wot youse americans does.

  5. @A. - To an American, there are only a scant handful of true collective nouns, like you, group and crowd. "Centre" is not among that elite. :) But your explanation has pointed me in the right direction toward the true answer, which is: "Once again, our countries have drifted apart on how things are done, what words mean and how our language has evolved." Or something like that. In other words, our rules are different than/from/to your rules.

    Even when collective, Americans will almost always use a singular verb, and any subsequent pronouns will be singular as well. So I guess I have my answer. You would say, The band were late for their performance," and we (seeing only one band) would say the band was late for it's performance.

    In all honesty I have never misunderstood British usage; I only wanted to know why, and now I does.

    Happily, this was probably the last thing I didn't understand, so this blog is now complete as to original purpose. I think it was you who answered my very first question, too. Cool.

  6. The sad truth of the matter is, you brought us here, speaking exactly as you spoke, but then you went away and left us here alone. For many decades, you didn't return to upgrade our knowledge of the language and how it had evolved in the Motherland. So, in many things and ways, Americans are a museum of your past and how you used to speak. Quaint, perhaps, but certainly all your fault.

  7. I find myself in agreement with Adullamite, Centre, not Center, though that edifice's website calls it Center. It's a sad thing to see our european neighbours spelling the American way.

    The question you pose, , well, Max is singular, so it would be "Max is asking", but, if Britishspeak were a collaborative blog, with several contributors, you might say "Britishspeak are asking".

    In your quoted example, I agree absolutely with you. If the subject is "The Center", then it up dates its website. Because here we're discussing a singular entity.
    However, we can stray from that in certain circumstances.
    "( The members of) the Faculty have congratulated (the members of)the graduating class on their achievement."
    Okay. Not the best example... I'm looking at in doubtfully.
    Looking at sports reporting... "United were three goals up on their opponents at half-time", sounds fine to me, whereas "United was three goals up on its opponent at half time" would sound ridiculous to me, because contextually we're aware that "United" refers to an entity which we can regard as singular or plural.
    Like platoon, or fleet, or squadron, each can be referred to individually or plurally.

  8. Soubriquet - It is ESPECIALLY sad when the "offending" country is Denmark, home of so many of your (note the collective pronoun) roots. Here we have a clear case of a Danish writer. who almost surely was taught to speak English the British way, writing on the web and KNOWING that much of his audience would be American. It is a slippery slope for a writer who has a mixed audience, as you yourself can attest. In this case, were I the Dane, I think I would have opted for "centre" though. In fairness, I'm sure neither spelling appears on the sign in front of the place. I don't know what the Danish word for center is, but am pretty sure it isn't centre. :)

    This does bring up another pet peeve of mine with this blog. My goal was to uncover words and usages which were different from the American words and usage. At first, I simply asked you to tell me your words. How silly, we both soon found out. Then I began to read British newspapers online. That helped. I tried to buy books printed in British English, but Amazon wouldn't let me buy from UK Amazon. Even Enid Blighton's books have been sadly Americanized. Occasionaly, one of you would make a "natural" comment on this blog, without trying to write for an American, and I learned. But most of you affect an American style of writing and usage which is not terribly useful to me in my quest to find "natural" Britishspeak examples. Mostly, now, I am reduced to the comments of the Mail Online. Slang I am getting from that. :) :)

  9. Indeed. The Universal Translator. :) RFLMAO.

  10. How dare you!
    None of us ever 'affect an American style of writing and usage.'
    We speak proper like you know mate!

  11. Center appears to be the Danish word for centre, so they are excused.

  12. "Happily, this was probably the last thing I didn't understand, so this blog is now complete as to original purpose".

    I very much doubt it was the last thing you didn't understand, but since it sounds very much like a dismissal I will consider myself dismissed.

  13. A: Danish for centre or center is centrum.

    Danish schools teach english, and Danish television has a lot of programmes in english, sourced from both America and Britain... (I suspect there are also some from Australia, Canada and other english speaking countries).
    And it's interesting to note that the school curriculum requires pupils to learn both American and British english. They understand the differences quite readily, because those differences are similar to the differences in Nordic languages.
    "50% of Danes prefer British english, 33% prefer American, and the rest are not particularly concerned."
    (Standard English: the widening debate, By Tony Bex, Richard J. Watts)

    American is gaining ground among the younger Danes, partly because of the americocentric language bias of computer operating systems, and the internet, facebook, twitter, etc.



Related Posts with Thumbnails