Simultaneous Plural and Singular Nouns – cite please!!

(This may have been covered in the past but it’s not coming up in a search.)

When talking about a company, I happily mix the singular and plural form. For example, “Company X is releasing a new product next week. They have high expectations for it.”

A good friend has roundly lambasted me for this, using the undeniable logic that company is singular, not plural.

My contention is that it can legitimately be both, and this is borne out by a Google search.

There are a number of sites that discuss this usage, and approve of it, but none of these references could be described as definitive.

Can someone please direct me to a definitive authority that can help resolve this vexing question, and in doing so, hopefully support my assertion that either usage is correct?


I don’t have a cite, but I’d say that your usage is correct. In your example: The new product is released by the company, not the individual employees; but the high expectations are felt by the employees, not the company. Strictly speaking it’s not grammatically correct; “they” doesn’t refer to another word in the sentence, but I’d say it’s implied and its meaning is clear.

Get a 30-day free trial to the Chicago Manual of Style Online. They are authoritative and your answer is probably in there somewhere, but you’ll have to root around a bit.

In American English the convention is to use the singular: IBM is introducing a new product this week.

In British English the convention is the use the plural: IBM are introducing a new product this week.

Where the rest of the English speaking world falls, I don’t know.

The British would obviously say “they” afterwards, but I don’t know that the convention is clear in the US. Technically your pronouns should match, but we mix them up all the time.

They is commonly used to refer to a gender neutral singular, though it functions as a plural (They are, they have, not they is or they has). Regardless, John Mace has it. Is your friend British?

This does not apply to the OP. The use of “they” is maybe a little vernacular, but I’d say it’s still acceptable.

Language is not logical. It’s perfectly fine to use “they” conversationally for many gender-neutral singular entities.

Are Her Majesty’s Government prepared to issue an edict on this issue? If not, are Cambridge? Are Oxford?


Thinking a bit more about this, if I’m recounting my work experience, I would say, “…then I worked at Ford. I was with them for three years”, I wouldn’t say “I was with it for three years”.

There’s an implied noun in the second sentance - the “them” refers to workmates etc rather than the corporate entity itself.

Cookingwithgas - I’ll follow up the Chicago Manual of Style now. Thanks for the tip.


Then good friend no doubt has a suggestion for what pronoun to use instead of “they.” I’d love to hear what it is.

I think Her Majesty’s Government is singular, perhaps because it’s supposed to speak with one voice both to Her Majesty and to the general public. And any organisation (such as a university) that issues edicts will (in its edict-issuing capacity) be a singular organisation: again, it’s speaking with one voice.

His view is the sentence should be “Company X is releasing a new product next week. It has high expectations for it.” But for me, companies are they, not it…

And the other problem with this is, it-the-company is too easily confused with it-the-new-product.

I’ve personally tended to treat that as context-sensitive. In general, I treat “Company X” as a proper noun that should be treated in the singular: Company X, the entity, has high hopes for its new product. However, if the product and the company have to be referred to generically, then one has to be differentiated by the other, in which case, Company X gets treated like a group that make up an entity: Company X, the entity, have released a new product. They, the employees of said corporate entity, have high hopes for it, the product.

I generally treat “company” as singular, but I do think I use “they” a lot when referring to one.

Trickier is “company headquarters.American Heritage says it can be treated as singular or plural depending on the context:

“USAGE NOTE: The noun *headquarters * is used with either a singular or a plural verb. The plural is more common: The corporation’s headquarters are in Boston. But when reference is to authority rather than to physical location, many people prefer the singular: Division headquarters has approved the new benefits package.

Perhaps it’s the same with “company” in regard to authority versus physical location?

To me, the sentence in the OP is a clear grammatical error. The solution, as in most problems of this type, is to recast the sentences. Either, the folks at Company X are releasing [etc.]. Or, Company X is releasing … The folks in marketing have high expectations [etc.]. FWIW, I don’t think the problem is so much equivocation over whether “company” is singular or plural. Rather, it’s that the verbs being used don’t naturally take the same subject. A company can release, but it can’t have expectations. Consider another example. “Today, Company X filed its quarterly earnings statement. It reported that sales had increased Y% as compared with the prior quarter.” Here, the verbs will accept the same subject, so no pronoun problem.

That just sounds weird. “It” can’t have expectations, surely, since “it” is inanimate. You might have been grammatically incorrect before but it sounds a lot better than your friend’s version.

I disagree with this sentiment (which I’ve seen expressed before by others). Avoiding the issue does not address the issue. Either “they have high expectations for it” is correct or “it has high expectations for it” is correct - saying you shouldn’t use either one because you can’t figure out which is the correct one is not a real answer.

Since this is a case of metonymy, I think it should be okay to use ‘they.’ The word company is being used as a handy verbal representative of the people that work for company x.

There is no possibility of error in the OP. There is no rule in English that says that a pronoun has to refer to a noun in the same (or even nearby) sentence. Linguists felled many trees trying to write rules of coreference (when two pronouns or two nouns or a pronoun and noun) refer to the same entity and finally gave it up as impossible. Instead they wrote rules of non-coreference. In the sentence, “Bill shaved him” or even, “Bill shaved Bill”, the noun/pronoun or two nouns have to refer to different people. To make an exception, you have to use a reflexive, which is a sign that the two are co-referent.

In the OP, it is clear that the “they” refers to the people of the company, but it would not be grammatically wrong if it referred to another plurality of people, although the pragmatics might be dubious in that case.