Are companies singular or plural?

    Posted on February 24, 2020


    When we speak, we have a tendency to refer to businesses and organisations in the plural form. For example, we might say that “Sainsbury’s are taking on more staff” and “Microsoft have released their latest version of Windows”, but why do we do this? In both those examples, there’s only one company doing it.

    It probably comes from the idea that a company is a collection of people, but in reality, it can be anything from one person in their living room, to several thousand employees all over the world all operating under one name. That means a company is an ‘it’, and in written reporting, should be referred to in the singular form.

    Examples of this being done correctly can be seen in two stories reported by The Mirror and Marketing-Interactive.com today:

    “Tesco has become the first UK supermarket to launch a range of fabric plasters in three skin tones to ‘better represent the nation’.”

    “McDonald’s Singapore has introduced a contactless delivery service in its fight against coronavirus (COVID-19) in Singapore.”

    What about when companies refer to themselves?

    When talking about themselves, companies often avoid using the third person, such as saying “Call into the Post Office and see how they can help”. If they do this when promoting themselves, it can seem as though the writer or speaker is distancing themselves from the company.

    Instead, they use what is often referred to as the corporate ‘we’, creating an unusual situation where those outside the organisation should see it as a single entity, but those inside promote it as a collection of people.

    Are there any exceptions?

    There is a convention in sport to ignore the fact that a football club is singular and refer to it in the plural. It would be unusual to hear that “Liverpool is top of the league”, with ‘are’ usually preferred to ‘is’. This may be to help distinguish the football club from the city of Liverpool, and avoid awkward-looking grammar when teams have plural-sounding names like Blackburn Rovers or Wolves.

    Bands and music groups are often also considered a plural, perhaps because they too often end with ‘s’, such as with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Arctic Monkeys. It’s possible to make these band names into a singular if referring to one member (e.g. “John Lennon is an ex-Beatle”), so the plural form comes a little more logically in this case.

    At Engage Web, we write for businesses, so getting these details right is important to us. To learn more about our content and search engine optimisation services, speak to us today.

    John Murray

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