Here are DailyWritingTips.com readers’ queries about plural usage, and my responses.
1. Is staff singular or plural?
Staff can be either singular or plural, though the singular form is preferred: “The staff is encouraged by the new policy” is correct. “The staff are encouraged by the new policy” is also correct but is better rendered “The staff members are encouraged by the new policy.”
“Staff members are encouraged by the new policy,” however, has a slightly different connotation; when staff is preceded by the, the implication is that the opinion is one of consensus. Without the, it’s assumed that the conclusion is based on a sampling, though that distinction would be clearer if the sentence read, “Some [or many, or another qualifier] staff members are encouraged by the new policy.”
2. “Is shingles — referring to the disease, not the roof covering — singular or plural?”
Shingles or any similar condition (hives, measles, mumps) should be referred to with a singular verb: “Shingles is more common in adults than in children.” If that seems awkward, you could write, for example, “Contracting shingles is more common in adults than in children.”
3. I am confused about something, specifically singular and plural usage when writing about music groups. For instance, I might write about the fictional music group Music Band: “At last night’s concert, Music Band was awesome!” I have been told it is more correct to say, “At last night’s concert, Music Band were awesome!” Which is more correct? Isn’t was more correct when referring to the band as a whole? And yet, almost every instance I’ve seen uses were instead of was, which just doesn’t sound right to me.
In American English, the verb should be consistent with the form of the name. Plural-style names (“the Beatles”) take plural verbs, and singular-style names (“the Who”) take singular verbs. In British English, both forms take a plural verb. (This post discusses these usages and the convention for references to sports teams.)