Collective Nouns | Practise? Practice? |
Why Don't Americans Spell Like the British?
Question:I have a question about verb agreement with collective nouns. I've read that "staff"
and "family" and "group" can be treated as plural or singular nouns, depending on
context. But it nags me to see them plural. Here are two irksome examples:
- "The staff have various expertises."
- "The entire family had their appendices removed at one time."
Would it be better grammatically to write:
"The staff bring a range of expertise."
- "All family members had their appendixes removed about the same time."
Please advise me; I'd be grateful!
American usage prefers treating collective nouns as singular: the staff has, the staff
brings, the family has, and so on. British usage prefers the plural: the staff have,
the staff bring, and the family have. Exceptions exist, as you note.
However, let me point out that your examples all use the plural. The changes you
made have nothing to do with making the verb singular. Also, "had" is the past
tense for singular and plural.
Go to Top of Page
Question:"Continued practise is necessary to achieve success."
Should I use it as a verb and spell it with an 's' or as a noun and spell it with a "c". I
would argue that it may be used as verb in this instance.
If you are following American usage, spell it "practice" always.
If you follow British usage, spell it with an s for
verbs ("he practises every day) and with a c for
nouns ("she has a thriving practice").
As your sentence uses the word, it is, in either
dialect, a noun.
(Thanks to UK correspondent and English teacher,
Linda Abrahams, for clarifying these spelling distinctions.)
Why the difference? The OED recognizes
both spellings for both the noun and verb forms.
For British usage, the OED gives preference to practice/practise, following
the models of advice/advise and device/devise.
Perhaps the US spelling stays the same for both
the noun and verb forms because the pronunciation
stays the same — unlike
advice/advise, where the verb's s sounds
like a z.
On both sides of the water, English spelling is
a misery for most writers.
NB: It is also American practice to enclose periods
and commas within quotation marks, regardless of
how the quoted material is used. Your sentence would
be written thus:
. . . spell the word with a "c."
British rules for such marks depend on how
the quoted material is being used.
Go to Top of Page
Why do Americans' spellings differ so much?
Example: Color instead of Colour, Humor instead of Humour,
organization instead of organisation. The list goes on!
In fact most words that Americans spell "-ize" and "-zation"
we (Australia, UK, NZ etc.!) spell "-ise" and "-sation".
When did America decide to change this? and why??
On July 4, 1776, the 13 American Colonies declared their independence from Great
Britain. Cultural independence followed the political. In 1783 Noah Webster, the
first American lexicographer, began reforming certain spellings and (like George
Bernard Shaw a century later) advocated further changes.
spellings like "honour," "catalogue," and "centre" were Anglicized to honor,
catalog, and center. In words where the "s" sounded like "z" or the "c" like an "s,"
the letters followed the sound: realize, defense, and so forth.
American spelling has also updated a few of the "ough" words: plow and draft,
rather than plough and draught. I look forward to transforming all the "ough"
words to spellings that represent their sounds.
Perhaps one could turn the question around and ask why British spelling has
resisted such sensible changes? English friends have told me that they had
problems remembering where the "u" went: coulor?
English spelling whether American or British needs gentle, but thorough, revision
so that writers can spend time on their rhetoric and meaning, rather than on their
For more information about the differences between British and American English, please visit my links page.