Sunday, May 25, 2014

The team are - Collective nouns in British English

'Our team are playing really well today'

That sentence is absolutely standard in British English, but unusual, 'ungrammatical' even, to American ears. The word team denotes a group of people, and is usually referred to as a collective noun. The standard position amongst grammarians and usage guide writers is that you can use either a singular or plural verb with a collective noun.
There is a difference, however, between American and British usage. While Americans will practically always use a singular verb, British speakers will often use a plural verb, something some people find hard to accept.
During the course of a (let's say lively) discussion on this topic on a language forum, I collected quite a lot of quotes from, and links to, various grammar books, style guides and commentators on English, so I thought it might be useful to gather them all here.
In no sense am I trying to persuade people to use plural verbs with collective nouns: that is your choice. My aim here is just to try and convince people that this usage has a long history and is entirely legitimate.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Random thoughts on 'Every little helps'

Recently The Guardian published an article on 'The Bad Grammar Awards', something guaranteed to bring the peevers out of the woodwork. One commenter wrote 'What about "every little helps"? That's not grammatical either.'
"Every little helps" is the current slogan of Tescos, Britain's biggest supermarket chain, and no doubt the commenter thought it was just another example of corporations playing free and easy with the English language, like McDonald's famous 'I'm lovin it' or the daddy of them all - 'Winston tastes like a cigarette should'.
Tescos' slogan had never particularly bothered me, perhaps because I had a funny feeling that this expression had been around rather longer than since Tescos started using it.
Admittedly it's rather difficult to analyse grammatically. Yes, you can have a little, but that's usually considered a pronoun rather than a noun, and you can't have two littles, so can you have every little? I suppose if I'd thought about it I would have seen it as an ellipsis of 'Every little bit counts'.
Let's imagine, however, that rather than a modern advertising slogan 'every little helps' was an old idiom or proverb; would people really be worrying about its grammaticality then, I wonder?