more english

Elizabeth Kiser kiser at ANDREW.CMU.EDU
Thu Mar 9 09:50:30 CST 2000

I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with Dr. Schuchert. His example, "The
police was present," is incorrect. Police may indeed be a collective noun,
but it sounds just as bad to say "The police is" as it does to say "The
Beatles is." And according to the Oxford American Dictionary, "police" is a
plural collective noun and thus takes a plural verb. Hence, one would say,
"The police are/were..."

All this is just to say that, at least when you're able to, it's best to
consult a reference book rather than just to trust what you've heard people
say or what sounds right to your ear. (Fortunately my co-worker has three
shelves full of English reference books and we are never at a loss for

According to "Scientific Style and Format: The CBE Manual for Authors,
Editors, and Publishers" Sixth Edition, "Names at the rank of family and
above are plural in form and therefore requie plural verbs and pronouns.
'The Rosales are estimated to comprise 6600 species.' 'The Liliaceae are
very diverse.'" (p. 423). This is also the standard we follow in the Flora
of North America project. However, we do not always use an article before
the family name. I think, as several people have suggested, that it may be
a matter of opinion. When in doubt, I would say use the article.

I hope this clears things up rather than adding confusion to the
discussion. To the poor person who made the original post about
subject-verb agreement with families: good luck sorting all this out!

Beth Kiser
Editorial Coordinator, FNA

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