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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A couple that was arrested? I am writing a newsletter and can't bring myself to type - a couple that was arrested .....  :p
 

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It's 'who' though and it's not 'was' it's 'were' because there's two of them.
"Couple" is actually a collective noun, so I think it should perhaps be "was." Sounds weird, though, so either I'm wrong or that's simply not the way people say it, regardless of the correct grammar.

ETA: Here are two articles:

http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/collective-nouns.aspx
http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2010/09/style

that suggest the answer may differ depending on whether you're writing US or UK English.
 

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The Beatles were a group that were popular in the sixties.
I would say "the Beatles were" too, but I think I could say "the couple was" or "the couple were," depending on context. I think I'll admit this one is way past my limited grammatical understanding, and wait for someone else who knows more to answer the question. :D
 

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I would say that it simply depends on the subject being singular or plural. As the OP was using "couple" in a singular sense, a singular verb is fine. Looking at the issue with The Beatles...

The Beatles is a band that was popular in the sixties. (If someone didn't know what/who the group was.)
The Beatles were international heartthrobs in the sixties. (Because this is referring to the individuals within the group.)

It doesn't help in this case the the collective being used is plural - which makes you want to have a plural verb all the time. Use the same sentences with a singular band and it sounds a bit better to the ear.

Creedence Clearwater Revival is a band that was popular in the sixties.
Creedence Clearwater Revival were international heartthrobs in the sixties.
 

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Love this thread. I'm always breaking my brain over things like that (English is my second language).

I have a similar problem with "news"

'this was bad news' vs 'these were bad news'
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I believe that in the example 'couple' should be singular. But I'd also have a hard time writing: The couple went on its honeymoon  :p.

This is the sentence -
A couple who were arrested after shooting at masked burglars who broke into their remote cottage have described the ordeal ....
 

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Rewrite it. Avoid that construction.

I once wrote a lead: A group of candidates are ... then realized, no, it's: A group of candidates is ... then thought many readers might read: 'candidates is' as incorrect ... So I just had to find another way to phrase it: Several candidates ...

Another example: Try throwing this sentence at both writers and non-writers and ask them to fill in the blank with 'is' or 'are': She is one of the girls who ___ going to work for us. You won't get a consensus. I did this one night with a group of English teachers at a wine-fueled dinner in Barcelona. It led to a shouting match.

So make it: The Word Police arrested a couple ...
 

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Jan Hurst-Nicholson said:
This is the sentence -
A couple who were arrested after shooting at masked burglars who broke into their remote cottage have described the ordeal ....
Too many "who"'s in there! And it feels like you are trying to get far too much information into one sentence. Break it down and give the information piece at a time. Your brain, and your readers', will thank you.
 

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Collective nouns are tricky. Most collective nouns are usually singular, but couple is a bit of an exception.

Couple when used in the sense of two people takes plural verbs and pronouns. The couple were arrested for co-authoring terrible science fiction. They will be jailed for one thousand years. (ETA: One assumes they were arrested as individuals even though both are in jail)

In the sense of a single unit, use a singular verb: The fleeing couple has a chance to escape.

Garner's Modern American Usage says, "unlike other collective nouns, couple should take a plural verb far more often than a singular one. The plural construction is also far more convenient because it eliminates the need to find a suitable pronoun."

So you are quite correct to say they were arrested and one way to "gut-check" the singular or plural is to do what I just did and substitute the appropriate pronoun. Unless they were arrested as a singular unit (unlikely but possible in science fiction ;) ) were is the correct verb.
 

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Steve Silkin said:
Rewrite it. Avoid that construction.
That's what I would do but it would be nice to figure it out.
I would have thought the couple singular as one unit.
So is it a handfull of us "was" searching for the right answer ?
"Were" does not sound right to me.
 

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JRTomlin said:
Collective nouns are tricky. Most collective nouns are usually singular, but couple is a bit of an exception.

Couple when used in the sense of two people takes plural verbs and pronouns. The couple were arrested for co-authoring terrible science fiction. They will be jailed for one thousand years.

In the sense of a single unit, use a singular verb: The fleeing couple has a chance to escape.

Garner's Modern American Usage says, "unlike other collective nouns, couple should take a plural verb far more often than a singular one. The plural construction is also far more convenient because it eliminates the need to find a suitable pronoun."

So you are quite correct to say they were arrested and one way to "gut-check" the singular or plural is to do what I just did and substitute the appropriate pronoun. Unless they were arrested as a singular unit (unlikely but possible in science fiction ;) ) were is the correct verb.
Very glad to hear this! I generally use a plural verb with "couple," and there's another collective noun where I do the same thing. (Can't remember what it is, at the moment.) Now my daily practice has the official imprimatur of correctness. ;)
 

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It depends on your audience. If your audience is American, "couple" is a collective noun, and is treated as singular. "The couple was;" "the couples were." If the collective noun is singular, so is the verb in America. (I hadn't heard the part about it being treated as plural - that's fine. Whatever. I treat it as singular.)

The family was; the families were. The group was; the groups were.

However, collective nouns are treated as plural in England and Australia, even when they're singular.

This is the sort of thing that will get you slammed on Amazon for "poor grammar." Look at all the threads from indignant Brits about Amazon reviews. So if you're writing to an American audience, hold your nose and do it, or it will bite you.
 

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Jan Hurst-Nicholson said:
I believe that in the example 'couple' should be singular. But I'd also have a hard time writing: The couple went on its honeymoon :p.

This is the sentence -
A couple who were arrested after shooting at masked burglars who broke into their remote cottage have described the ordeal ....
When masked burglars broke into their remote cottage, Mr. and Mrs. Smith shot them and were subsequently arrested. The couple described the ordeal..."

PS. I also agree with "the couple went on its honeymoon." So there's the best ever example for maintaining flexibility with "couple."
 

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Couple is usually plural (per Garner cited by Tomlin), but it depends on context, i.e., whether the two in the couple are meant collectively or individually, much like majority is singular or plural depending on context. For example, a marriage counselor would more naturally say to his assistant (while reading over the roster for a weekend retreat), "This couple is not coming," then follow it up with, "They are aware of the refund policy." Why? Because he means the collective in the first case and the individuals in the second. After all, only individual human beings can be "aware" of things, so it's always going to be more natural to talk of aggregates when you talk of intentional (mind-related) things.

Anyway, this is a little beside the point because the sentence should employ elliptical construction (and replace after with for):

"A couple arrested for shooting at masked burglars [etc.]..."
 

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Lady_O said:
That's what I would do but it would be nice to figure it out.
Yes, wouldn't it!! But if you look at some of the notes below your post and above this one, you'll see:

As soon as you start talking about usage in context, you realize that some grammar/syntax (and even punctuation) is as much art as it is science.
 

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WHDean said:
Couple is usually plural (per Garner cited by Tomlin), but it depends on context, i.e., whether the two in the couple are meant collectively or individually, much like majority is singular or plural depending on context. For example, a marriage counselor would more naturally say to his assistant (while reading over the roster for a weekend retreat), "This couple is not coming," then follow it up with, "They are aware of the refund policy." Why? Because he means the collective in the first case and the individuals in the second. After all, only individual human beings can be "aware" of things, so it's always going to be more natural to talk of aggregates when you talk of intentional (mind-related) things.

Anyway, this is a little beside the point because the sentence should employ elliptical construction (and replace after with for):

"A couple arrested for shooting at masked burglars [etc.]..."
You-da-man
 
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