My boss frequently dictates: 'British Coal are prepared to offer....'

I say it is: 'British Coal is prepared to offer.....' Please settle this once and for all before blood is spilled!

I contend that he is referring to a large organisation, which therefore is singular, then 'is' is appropriate, and 'are' would only be correct if the sentence read 'the Directors of British Coal are prepared to offer....'

Other people in the office are divided on it - because common usage (in the North of England) favours the plural 'are'in this context, has it thereby become 'correct'?

Your thoughts please!

Many thanks.
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I think you are absolutely correct in your thoughts on this sentence. An organization is a singular entity, although sometimes we tend to think of it as its people.

Does common usage make something correct? That's a very interesting question. For a start, you have to define what 'correct' means, and decide whether you see grammar as a set of rules to be obeyed or as a description of how people speak.

Do the people in your British Coal office just write to other people in the north of England, or do they want their readers in other places to think they have good grammar?

Only people who love grammar spill blood over it!
Usage is the only factor that makes for correctness.
A grammar book is a collection of rules for how to speak and write the way most educated people are speaking and writing at any given point in time.
People speak and write English differently in different places and at different times.
That's why the "rules" you read in grammar books differ depending if the grammar book is from one historical period or another or from one locality or another.

Specifically, I've always heard that in British English collective entities take the plural verb, but in American English, they take the singular. I don't know if the situation has changed in Britain since I read that. (It hasn't in the U.S.)

Emotion: smile
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Thankyou for your reply, Clive, the more I think about what is common usage, the more frustrated I get, as I am passionate about English, and feel that it is a discipline, albeit, 'elastic sided'. But... I also know that our language is continually evolving, and when the common laws of grammar are broken continually, I have to ask myself, should I go with the flow, or hold out just a little longer for the rules. As a Secretary, I have been employed for many years not only what I can do, but for what I know. Maybe I'm a dinosaur, and should stop wincing at the aberrant apostrophe, the confusion of there, their and they're.

My view is that in normal chat, everyone hates a pedant and communication is the whole point of it all, so if we understand what is being said, then fine. I am concerned that when writing to Clients/other organisations, my firm (not British Coal , that was just an example) should be well presented - for example, I wouldn't dream of sending a letter/report or whatever to any one or any firm which had spelling or grammar mistakes, out of a) simple pride in the language, and a wish to present my boss/firm well, and b) respect for the addressee. regardless of their origins!!!

Nice to know someone else out there cares, as I feel I am fighting a losing battle.
Hello Jim, I am struggling a bit to understand your point of view - of course I accept that English speakers from America and England are going to use slightly different rules, and that's fine by me - however, I have also noticed that in American usage, expressions such as 'School is Out' prevail, using the singular form - but then America is so huge, you will have a great variance of usage between the states anyway.

What I am saying is, that in a more formal context than chit chat between colleagues, such as correspondence to Clients or companies, then the basic rules of grammar as taught in schools should be applied.

My brother has recently gained his Masters in English Language, and he tells me that I am correct, and most collective entitities take the plural, but when the collective noun such as the Team, the Company, the Organisation etc. is used, the grammatically correct form is as I said.

I hate pedantry, but also dislike grammatical anarchy and ugly speech, for example:
'This football team is the best in the region, having won all their matches',
'This football team are the best in the region..etc.' I think language should evolve and change, but slowly, and (especially when used in the more formal context of business, )not because people cannot be bothered to learn/use a few ground rules. OK, I'm a dinosaur! Emotion: big smile
A few comments.

I didn't realize it was going to be a struggle to understand what I wrote! Emotion: smile

The difference (regarding grammar) between the states, if any, is far, far less than the difference between the U.S. and Britain.

Being American, "School is out" makes perfect sense to me. I have no idea what the British say, but from the context it seems you are saying that the correct form is "School are out", which sounds like the speech of an illiterate to the ear of an American.

You must admit that had your brother gained his Masters in the U.S., his opinion of what is grammatically correct would be somewhat different. Had he gained his Masters 250 years ago, his opinion would be different again. (This is, in effect, my entire message.) The question is: Who has the authority to say what is correct and what is not? Presumably those who are keen observers of how educated people around them speak and write.

Neither you nor I have any control over the speed with which the language evolves, so why fret over it with "should"s? Emotion: smile

Consider this: No matter which solution you settle upon ("is" or "are'), there will be some reader of your correspondence who will find fault with the grammar, because what is "correct" seems to be uncertain at this stage. Some readers will insist they are correct in thinking one way; others will insist that the other formulation is the correct one. You can't exactly quote your brother as an authority in a footnote every time you need to make that "is"/"are" choice, can you? Emotion: smile
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Hello again Jim, and thanks for taking the time to answer my query. The point I was making about 'School is out' is that in my mind that is the correct grammar, not incorrect - perhaps I worded it badly (oops!), and my English friends who argue with me would, I think agree with you and me that 'School are out' sounds idiotic. Had my boss been an American, I would have enjoyed hearing the differences, and wouldn't dream of even querying what he said, unless it was in the interests of clarity to an English client or company.

I find that well educated colleagues (by which I mean all round education, not specialising in only one subject) agree with my version, and say there is no argument, whereas other very competent people, who even admit their grammar isn't up to much, say my version is wrong because 'no one says it like that'. In a formal context we do have rules, I don't know how it is in the states, but for instance, a formal letter starts either 'Dear Sir/Madam or Dear Mr/Mrs..' and ends 'yours faithfully'. Informal letters start with Dear Jim, or Hi! or whatever, and end the same way, i.e. no rules for informality. In a working office, therefore a business environment, a little formality shows respect for the firm and the recipient of the letter, and I feel uncomfortable about sending out a letter containing grammar mistakes as I would with poor spelling or presentation.

I do realise that all over a small place like Gt Britain the different regions have different slang, colloquialisms and syntax - however, trained Secretaries are (maybe I should now say 'were' expected to know and utilise the basic ground rules. In my firm, some of the experienced secretaries will slightly alter a sentence where there is a split infinitive or poor grammar, and this is known and appreciated (I do this for my boss - he knows I have total respect for his specialist knowledge, and he has appreciated the little bit of polish I add to his dictation). What instigated this little storm in a teacup was that he 'corrected' my correction!

To take the evolution argument just a little further, if ground rules are thrown out of the window, and anything goes, may we not all 'evolve' into communication via a series of grunts?

I quoted my brother because I know how much he loves and studies our language, his dissertation was wonderful and he's been invited to study for a Doctorate - (yes, I am bragging because he's brilliant) therefore I thought this fact might hold some persuasive argument for my boss. No dice!

My boss very kindly admitted to me that he doesn't know what he will do when I and the other experienced secretaries retire, in about 5/10 years, because we were trained properly, and don't blindly transcribe, but think about what is being said - although the young whippersnapper still dares to question me at times! Anyway, it's been really good to hear from you, and I shall still keep fighting the good fight for this beautiful language until I turn up my toes and everyone sighs with relief.
You do make me smile!

As for the grunts, you've heard of "ashes to ashes", I suppose?
Well, the language started as grunts, so I figure it may as well end up as grunts!

By the way, can you keep the peace by writing "We at British Coal are ..."??? (I'm assuming my suggestion of boxing the young man's ears would only exacerbate the situation.)

It seems to me that you would have (as we usually do in U.S. companies) a style manual to follow which lays out the do's and don't's of letter writing under the company letterhead. No? You could volunteer to draw one up - in your spare time! Lacking the time, you might suggest a good publication which would serve as well.

Do you know, Jim, what had been an irritant has turned into something very positive, after all, I made you smile, and created a bit of a debate. If you ever visited my home town on Saturday nights, the idea of reverting to grunts would not seem like some weird prophecy, believe me - I talk to taxi drivers a lot, who often refer to the drunken youngsters who take over the town centre as Neanderthals!!!

Your idea about 'We at British Coal are..' is great, however my company writes to British Coal and about British Coal to clients, therefore I can't use it as you suggest, although I could perhaps adapt the idea a little. I will think about that one. Evidently, before I joined the company an email was circulated because one of the partners had noticed an aberrant apostrophe on a letter or report and created hell over it, perhaps I should have a word in his ear? Mmmmmm!

Anyway thanks for your interest, it has been great to communicate with someone who really thinks. Cheers, m'dear. Isabel
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