‘Majority is’ vs. ‘majority are’: Collective nouns in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

“Majority” is one of a few nouns in English that can be used either with a singular or a plural verb. These nouns are called collective nouns because they describe a collective (i.e. a group) of people or things. Their usage in English differs from most other languages: We use a singular verb if the whole group is understood as a single entity, and a plural verb if we are referring to all individuals who belong to the group. For example:

A majority of people don’t want a war. (correct)
A majority of people doesn’t want a war. (wrong)

Here we are obliged to use “don’t” because we mean the people, not the “majority” itself. On the other hand, we would say

A majority is, by definition, a part of the population containing at least 50% of it. (correct)
A majority are, by definition, a part of the population containing at least 50% of it. (wrong)

because here we are referring to the “majority” itself, not to the individuals. The list of collective nouns includes, but is not limited to:

Audience, cabinet, committee, company, corporation, council, department, family, firm, group, jury, minority, navy, public, team.

For example, you can say “his family are all tall”, when you mean “his family members are all tall”. Note, however, that the usage of a plural verb after a collective noun denoting an institution (such as department, parliament, etc.) is much more widespread in British English than in American English; a Brit would likely say “the parliament are voting today”, whereas an American would say “the congress is voting today”.

This article was based on my guide to the most common mistakes in English, which explains many similar topics. Why don’t you check it out?

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