The team was vs. the team were?

Hi, we might have discussed this before and I’d like to ask it again. I’ve come across the following sentence in the latest TOEIC Prep book by Barron’s:

The financial team … that the offer was rejected.
A) was disappointed
B) were disappointed
C) was disappointing
D) were disappointing

Would you agree that ‘was disappointed’ is the only acceptable option? (According to Barron’s, the only correct sentence is this: “The financial team was disappointed that the offer was rejected.”)

Many thanks,

Hi Torsten,

I know I’ve said this before but I am happy with both ‘was’ and ‘were’. It seems to me that you can either regard ‘team’ as a single entity or as a group of people. I would go on to say that the idea of the team being ‘disappointed’ seems to suggest more the human aspect and that would suggest to me even more the idea of a group of people.


Hi, Torsten,

In my opinion both “was disappointed” and "were disappointed’’ are possible.
Oops! Alan’s answer came first and I can’t say better.

Good luck,


Hi Alan and Yuri,

Thanks a lot for your answers. I agree with both of you but apparently Barron’s don’t or shall I say “doesn’t”…[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: Drilling[YSaerTTEW443543]

Reading between the lines…

Hi Torsten (and Alan and Yuri)

There’s a problem: ‘was disappointed’ is the only acceptable option. The reason for this is that the question is multiple choice. Strictly a team (or a group) is a singular entity. The purist will argue (correctly) that this is the subject of the verb, not the members (of the team). Therefore, regardless of what Alan, or I, or anyone else may think ought to be acceptable, if both are on offer, the item writer is looking for the singular. The truth is that it is a badly written item. It should not have been included. Both structures are in such common usage, that both should now be allowed.

If the question had been an ‘open cloze’ both answers should have been allowed, even though some people would still disagree. It’s another of those situations where ‘you will never be wrong if you choose…’ (in this case ). You may find the author of the book is independent of the examining body, and they would never actually include such a question. Until you can be sure of that, however, it’s safest to make your students aware of the rule. Otherwise, in such a case, they may (got that sticky key fixed, Alan :wink: ) lose a point.

Dear Torsten,

I think the right and the only possible answer is ‘was disppointed’.

My explanation:

Here, in this context, we are speaking about ‘a’ team or ‘a’ group. Not about the persons.

The members of the board are disappointed.

The board is disappointed.

This is yet another case of grammar versus tradition.

A company or team or any other group is a single unit and thus should take a singular verb.

However, in most UK varieties they are often treated as plural. But, the problem arises that they don’t treat them as plural all the time.

I would say you can use both, but be warned that non-British speakers will have the initial reaction of it being incorrect. Most word processors will also classify plural usage as an error.

Oh and the TOEFL and TOEIC and SAT/GRE will likely consider plural usage incorrect which could cost valuable points.

As I’m sure you’re well aware, you’ve had exactly the same situation in your own tests on quite a number of occasions, Torsten. I can’t help but think of a particular test in which you and Alan have steadfastly refused to change one of the options that is supposedly incorrect. Even though that option reflects a usage that is correct and also extremely common in English, your test continues to proclaim that choosing that word is simply incorrect. Why? Because the usage is common in AmE, but less common in BE? Tsk, tsk tsk.

As for your initial question, yes, I would expect an American to always choose “was” in that sentence. However, I’m also aware that a Brit might possibly choose “were”. So, I don’t think the use of “were” should be ruled out. Probably the best thing to do would be to replace that option with one that would be more universally incorrect.

So, do you think Barron’s should simply ignore the situation and simply leave “were” as an incorrect option? Or do you think they ought to fix that? lol

[size=75]“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” ~ proverb[/size]

If you google the phrase ‘the police were’ you get 19 million results while ‘the police are’ produces even 158 million results. Who cares how many those results are American, Canadian, British, Irish, Australian or New Zealand English? What counts is that those phrases are ‘correct’ English.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC short conversations: A mother is calling to explain son’s absense because of sickness[YSaerTTEW443543]

Be careful Torsten, ‘the police’ is a group of individuals so it would get a plural in all varieties, but ‘the police department’ or ‘the police force’ is a unit and would get a singular.

Try googling something like ‘coca cola are’ or ‘IBM are’ versus is.

Isn’t a team a group of individuals too?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC short conversations: A client wants to speak to his accountant on the phone[YSaerTTEW443543]

Yes but are you referring to the team as an entity is as several individuals together?

Think about it: Seimens engineers are on strike (a group of individuals) but Siemens engineers some of the best trains (siemens is an entity)

Also the reason I don’t like to give much credence to the reasoning behind the British version is that their justification for why it’s plural (that they are comprised of individuals) doesn’t work as often as it does.

Brits may say ‘Siemens are a German company’ but they won’t say ‘Bavaria are a German state’.

Siemens is made up of employees and Bavaria is made up of Bavarians (and Franconians and Schwabians and such). So how can one be justified as plural and the other not?

How the heck did the police become involved with financial matters? lol

Torsten, my post was directed specifically at the sentence/exercise you posted at the beginning of this thread. For that sentence, I would expect any average American to automatically reject “were” and choose “was” – especially since there is no additional context that MIGHT possibly lead them to decide that saying “team were” MIGHT also be OK.

The word “police” is a different case entirely. Basically, that is a word that is universally used only as a plural word, never as a singular one. Both American and British dictionaries note that fact. So, that particular word is not relevant to the question at hand.

Anyway, you never did answer my question: What do you think Barron’s should do? Should they just leave that exercise as is and continue to suggest that the word “team” can never be correctly used in a plural sense? Or do you think they ought to edit that exercise? :slight_smile:

[size=75]“The McCain team was satisfied with the interviews but found Gibson a bit condescending at times, a judgment that is firmly in the beholder’s eye.” ~ from the Washington Post[/size]

I’m in no position to tell a company like Barron’s what they should or should not do. All I know is that many nouns describing a group of people or an organization can be treated both as a plural as well as a singular noun. I also know that in English there are very few ‘hard rules’ and that you need to refer to various style guides, newspapers and other sources to find out what is customary and appropriate. Other good places to find out more about how native speakers use their language are forums like WordReference, EnglishForums, UsingEnglish or ours.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC short conversations: A landlord talks about his business[YSaerTTEW443543]


I have a doubt in that case: What about an organization which is incorporated? An organization which is incorporated becomes ‘a’ separate legal entity. Since it is an individual entity separate from its members, should’nt it be treated as a singular noun? Can we still treat it as singular as well as plural?

Please correct me, if I’m wrong.

Thanks in advance,


Theja G

When you refer to a company you normally don’t know its legal status. It’s one thing to talk about a company as a legal entity. It’s another thing to talk about a company referring to its people. A ‘separate legal entity’ can’t think, make decisions, develop products, etc. However, people can. And they always work in teams. It’s never that one single person makes all the decisions, designs and sells all the products, etc. So, since we are talking about groups of people working together in teams I prefer to refer to companies as ‘they’.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC short conversations: An airline customer wants to change his flight[YSaerTTEW443543]

Yesh to me it takes way too much roundabout reasoning to justify the plural for a company. Why not just go for the singular usage which works universally all the time?

No one has said that Americans will never use the word “they” when referring to a single company or to a single group within a company. If the word “they” is used, it will be used with a plural verb. It’s basically just a simple matter of grammatical agreement with the form of the noun: singular noun + singular verb vs plural noun/pronoun + plural verb.

It would not be unusual to see an American speaker of English write something like this (and I suspect a Brit would have no problem with it either):

The [color=green]board of directors [color=green]is meeting tomorrow morning. [color=darkblue]They [color=darkblue]plan to discuss a number of pressing issues, including whether or not to replace the CEO.

board = grammatically singular
they = grammatically plural

As you know, the word “they” is also sometimes used to refer back to a singular noun even when the sense of the word “they” remains singular. But even in that sort of situation, the verb used is plural. It’s just a matter of grammatical agreement based on the form of the noun/pronoun used.

  • Someone [color=green]keeps calling me in the middle of the night, but they never [color=darkblue]say anything – they just [color=darkblue]hang up as soon as I answer.

[size=75]“One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, there ain’t nothin’ can beat teamwork.” ~ Edward Abbey[/size]