singular or plural for a US market
Thread poster: Lorraine Bathurst

Lorraine Bathurst
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:07
Member (2008)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 20, 2011

I am translating a tender document which constantly refers to a company and its subsidiary. My question is - is the subsequent verb in the singular or plural?

'Company X and/or Company Y' reserves the right to begin legal action ...
'Company X and/or Company Y' reserve the right to begin legal action...

My gut feeling is the third person s - but I am not basing this on any sound linguistic knowledge.



Françoise Vogel  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:07
English to French
+ ...
and/or Aug 20, 2011

X and/or Y reserve(s) ....


Tina Vonhof
Local time: 12:07
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Leave it in singular Aug 20, 2011

Especially since this occurs very frequently and since it is about a company and its subsidiary, not two completely different companies, it would seem awkward to use (s) all the time.


Teresa Reinhardt  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:07
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Singular for AE Aug 20, 2011

plural seems to be the rule in BE (like 'the police are looking for..."). There should be online explanations galore (collective nouns)


Andrey Reznikov
English to Russian
+ ...
Plural verb Aug 20, 2011

You have two nouns in the singular, joined by the conjunction "and"; hence, the verb should be plural (that is: X and Y reserve the right...)

[Edited at 2011-08-20 23:32 GMT]


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:07
Chinese to English
Singular for AE, plural for BE Aug 21, 2011

As Teresa said. British English seems much more tolerant of understanding a singular noun as plural (e.g. BE "the team play better at home" vs AE "the team plays better at home"); but I don't think it's an absolute rule in BE. I've seen Americans correct sentences like my BE example there, so they may see it as more of a rule.
In your example, though, as there are two companies, the problem shouldn't arise.


B D Finch  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:07
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Avoid if possible Aug 21, 2011

Instead of "Company X and/or Company Y reserve(s) the right to begin legal action ", I suggest:
Company X and Company Y reserve the right for either or both of them to institute legal action.

In the case of the police or a team, as per the examples given by Teresa and Phil, it is not a question of using a plural verb with a singular noun, but of UK English considering both "police" and "team" as collective nouns. Dare I speculate that we still have less of a corporate culture, and so are more conscious of the people involved. Of course, we are not all that consistent, especially with words like "management".

[Edited at 2011-08-21 17:33 GMT]


Lorraine Bathurst
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:07
Member (2008)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Thanks for all comments Aug 21, 2011

Thank you everyone for taking the time to comment.

As this occurs so many times in a 130 page document, I cannot avoid it using it, nor can I explicitate - and - as Tina says - using (s) is clunky.
Also I don't see it as a collective noun issue either. Audience, police etc can be both seen as singular or plural nouns depending on context and perspective. Certainly in BE anyway.

'the audience was thin on the ground that evening' -
'the audience were clapping enthusiastically during the 4 minute finale' -

Both are perfectly acceptable - I taught English for many years and these are the accepted written formats. In spoken English we tend to use the plural form and this may influence how people think the written form should be.

But in my text the companies can act independently of each other or jointly - so I don't see it as the same as a collective noun.

For this project I am going to use Tina's suggestion of leaving it in the singular - third person s form.

Thanks for all the interesting comments.


[Edited at 2011-08-21 19:38 GMT]


Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:07
German to English
collective plural in US vs. UK, and/or Aug 22, 2011

This is a good question.

In the UK, "Company X and/or Company Y" can simply be used with a plural verb (as suggested by Teresa and Phil): A plural verb would be correct in the case of both "X and Y" and "X or Y" because of the convention of treating company names as collective nouns in the UK. (A singular verb seems wrong to me: While it is acceptable for "X or Y", it is wrong for "X and Y".)

In the US, "Company X and Company Y" requires a plural verb, while "Company X or Company Y" requires a singular verb (Company names are not treated as collective nouns according to US convention. "Coca-Cola are planning a new product," sounds so unnatural to US ears that it is--for all intents and purposes--wrong.). A US author would normally avoid the construction (as suggested by B D Finch). The simplest way to do this seems to be to create a passive sentence, so that "Company X and/or Y" is no longer the subject = "The right to begin legal action is reserved by Company X and/or Y..."

In US English, "police" happens to always be a collective noun. Except in the case of fans of Gangsta Rap and Country Music, you are very unlikely to hear "The police is...". In US English, "audience" is always singuar; this is why "members of the audience" (plural) is used so often.

And my short answer: It's a contract.. I can't imagine that the client or any reader will ever notice this point of grammar. So, in practical terms, I think your answer is as good as mine.



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