I recall reading Rolph Boldrewood’s title, “Robbery Under Arms” when I was in grade 12. It’s a story about Australian bushrangers so it deals with Australian history and characters and should be of interest to young men heading towards adulthood. Unfortunately, although I loved reading, I found it a very difficult book to read because of the style of English expression he used. It was long and seemed convoluted. In reality, it was simply the way English was used in his era.
After forcing myself to read “Robbery Under Arms”, I completed my assigned work, got a distinction and hoped never to read any of Boldrewood’s work again.
What I came to realise is that English is an evolving language. Nobody speaks today as Shakespeare did. The advent of technology and a different world meant that our language has had to change. There are new words and terms I read most weeks that I haven’t heard before, some sensibly composed, and others banal.
For example, we now have people talking about “trigger words”, “safe spaces”, “identity politics”, and the word “alternate” is often substituted for “alternative”, the latter most often being correct.
In this article, however, I want to discuss the sad demise of group singular. It seems that even those journalists, editors, authors, and public relations people who rely on communication for a living can’t differentiate between singular and plural.
Every couple of days I hear how “Australia have won or lost a cricket game”. The reference of course is to our Australian cricket team of which there is one. In other words, it is singular, not plural.
Our government (meaning our Federal Government) have frequently made a decision, announced something, or passed legislation. In all cases, we only have one Federal Government and it’s a singular entity. Has is the correct verb to use.
Every time I read a brochure written, hopefully by someone who specialises in communication, I’m confronted with a team who have won or lost, organisations that have done something or a business that have the best product on the market.
Writers have most difficulty with single entities with a plural at the end of their name eg, Mount Isa Mines is the name of a company that has several mines, but the name refers to a single entity and therefore requires a has, was or is and not a have, were or are. For example:
Mount Isa Mines has celebrated 120 years.
Mount Isa Mines is Australia’s leading copper, lead and zinc producer.
Mount Isa Mines was awarded for its exemplary safety record.
Writers today also have great difficulty when writing about range, majority, variety, and some other words that are singular and require a singular, not plural verb.
Is this change in grammatical use attributable to poor educational standards (many of the people misusing our language are tertiary educated), is it laziness, or is it a natural evolution of English language? Will we one day wake up and find the verbs has, is and was have disappeared?
Unlike France that has a government department whose function is to ensure the continuing purity of the French language, English isn’t a pure language and therefore has no such organisation. Of course, there are also regional versions of English as in United Kingdom, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, and United States English. Some refer to these as “Englishes” but, I can’t bring myself to do so.
Despite some differences in usage, most countries agree on core principles of grammar and syntax.
Given that communication is the accurate transmission of information from one person or group of persons to another, does it really matter how we write or speak provided the recipient of our communication understands our message?
I think it does because we have a beautiful language and there is a sadness in seeing it misused. Remember, our language can achieve everything with 26 letters of the alphabet and words written on one line – none of this on, below and above the line stuff as in say, Arabic.
What do you think? Should we worry about the demise of group singular? As with the “Apostrophe Protection Society”, should we set up a “Group Singular Protection Society?”