Copy Editor’s Corner | Collectively or individually, that is the question
Is one of the following absolutely, without a doubt, grammatically correct?
“The board disagree about how to allocate this quarter’s remaining funds.”
“The board disagrees about how to allocate this quarter’s remaining funds.”
Well, not exactly. But you shouldn’t necessarily let the green squiggly line in Microsoft Word sway you – you can make a good case for disagree. Why? Board is a collective noun. Other collective nouns are team, committee, and couple, and they confuse writers and readers alike because each group is made up of more than one person, such as members of a board.
Whether to use a singular or plural construction depends in part on how the group is acting: Together or individually. In the above example, the board members are several different people acting as individuals. Members disagree. Individuals disagree. It’s important to be consistent throughout the sentence or entire piece, though. Don’t write, “The board disagree about how to allocate their remaining funds.” Use its instead.
Perhaps the easiest solution is to reword the sentence or simply add a word like “members.” Then you’ll have little doubt about whether to use singular or plural construction.