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  1. #1
    ostap77 is offline Key Member
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    Default a family of mocking birds

    "A family of mockingbirds nest in the tree every spring." Does it take the plural or singular?

  2. #2
    The Dude is offline Member
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    Default Re: a family of mocking birds

    Singular if you're talking about the family, plural if your emphasis is on the birds.

    If you're unsure, think about what will come after that sentence:

    If you use the singular - the family...nests - then further references to it must also be singular. Eg: 'It then leaves early in the autumn.'

    If you use the plural - the family...nest - then the next sentence might read: 'They make a terrible noise all summer.'

    Avoid mixing it up, as 'A family of mockingbirds nest in the tree and wakes us up every day' would be a serious grammatical crime.

    Most 'nouns of multitude' like this one (army, hunt, crowd, etc) behave the same way. There will be exceptions, I'm sure.

  3. #3
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    riquecohen is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: a family of mocking birds

    Quote Originally Posted by ostap77 View Post
    "A family of mockingbirds nest in the tree every spring." Does it take the plural or singular?
    Generally, in AmE you would use the singular verb.

  4. #4
    ostap77 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: a family of mocking birds

    Quote Originally Posted by riquecohen View Post
    Generally, in AmE you would use the singular verb.
    What would you mean by generally? "Avoid mixing it up, as 'A family of mockingbirds nest in the tree and wakes us up every day' would be a serious grammatical crime."

    If you take family as a noun that takes a singular verb, will you say that a bunch of flowers are or is?
    Last edited by ostap77; 19-Mar-2011 at 22:31.

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    The Dude is offline Member
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    Default Re: a family of mocking birds

    'Bunch' by itself can take either singular or plural, depending on what you want to emphasize:

    Buying flowers in a shop: "That bunch is beautiful, I'll take it."

    Criticising a nasty political party: "That bunch are evil - don't believe a word they say."

    Once you qualify the bunch, however, it usually likes to be singular, but not always:

    "That bunch of flowers looks lovely in my window and catches everyone's attention."

    "A bunch of fives (a weapon) is capable of giving you a very serious injury."

    "That bunch of idiots are going to get themselves into trouble with their rowdy behaviour." (This could be in the singular, but don't mix singular and plural, eg: ...is going to get themselves...)

    My reference to mixing up the person should really be qualified by adding 'within that sentence'. So, having said how lovely the bunch of flowers is, your next sentence could stress the flowers themselves by saying how much you like them. But you would not change the person in this way within one sentence, and you would normally do so only if you needed to change the emphasis.

    No doubt there will be exceptions.

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