Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Is Coldplay singular or plural?

A good example of the variation permitted between singular and plural for semantically plural but grammatically singular entities like bands in (British) English:

Here we have 'offends' with the singular agreement, and in the very same sentence the plural verb 'are' (contracted to 're).

We also have a pronoun 'they' which can be used for both singular and plural referents, at least in colloquial usage and probably in many formal registers too. However, it's prescriptively plural, and this can affect its usage in funny ways. For instance, it's unusual to hear 'themself' and spellcheckers don't allow it, even when referring to a singular antecedent in a sentence like 'a student has left their file here. They'll be kicking themselves later'.

It's impossible (for me, at least) to refer to a band as 'it'. This is a bit surprising seeing as a band can be singular, as noted above. I don't know the reason for this. But it means that we have to use 'they' and we have a singular verb 'offends' in the tweet above, followed by the frequently singular 'they', followed by the plural 'are', all of which should be one or the other. But because at no point is there a mismatch between two adjacent items, the long distance mismatch comes out just about ok. 'They' mediates between the singular and plural verbs and both are deceived into thinking they're in the right number form.


  1. The tweet would be exactly the same in North American English ("offends" agrees with the singular band name, "are" agrees with the plural pronoun). Try it with a plural band name (The Rolling Stones offend me...they are...).
    Now, in BE would you say Cold Play has... or Cold Play have...?

  2. Yeah, I wasn't really commenting on the use of singular agreement because it's unremarkable. It was more that there is mismatched agreement. But your final point is partly the point of my post - you can refer to a band as plural and it would be fine to say 'Coldplay has' or 'Coldplay have', and it would have been equally fine to say 'Coldplay offend me'. The tweeter has switched from singular to plural reference mid-sentence, possibly because of the potential of 'they' to be either.

  3. They always demands plural agreement, always. No matter how singular the referent, they is is flat ungrammatical in any kind of Standard English, just as you is is, and for the same reason: you, like they, is historically plural.