Letters to the Editor

A singular problem

While I savor every word of the Alumni Bulletin and anticipate the articles about the accomplishments of Kenyon graduates, especially in the area of writing and research, I was dismayed to see a glaring grammatical error in the story about eating disorders ("Body of Research," Spring/Summer 2005). In the heading for the story, as well as in the table of contents, the magazine states that "a team of Kenyon psychology professors have pursued research . . . ." The subject of that sentence is "team," which is not plural. Therefore, of course, the corresponding verb must be singular, which would be "has." It is disconcerting to find such an error in a publication that is affiliated with a college or any educational institution. It is mistakes like this that creep into everyday usage and it is therefore no wonder that people speak English incorrectly. --Michele Adashek P'05

Editor's Note: We plead both guilty and innocent. Dan Laskin, our deputy editor and one of several certified grammar sticklers on the staff, wrestled with this one--and consulted several of his favorite usage authorities--before making the call. The problem is that "team," as a collective noun, may legitimately take either the singular or plural. Discussing collectives in his long-admired guide The Careful Writer, Theodore Bernstein writes, "If the idea of oneness predominates, treat the noun as a singular . . . . If the idea of more-than-oneness predominates, treat the noun as a plural." (Thus, one would say "The number of accidents is larger this year" but "A great number of accidents are preventable.") Reflecting specifically on the word "team," Jane Lyle, the former managing editor of Indiana University Press, has written: "The criterion is whether you are referring to the team as a singular entity or as a collection of individuals." We saw Kenyon's three experts on body-image issues very much as a collection of individuals rather than as a single entity. Hence, plural. Hence, "have." We stand with Ms. Adashek in lamenting grammatical sloppiness, and we agree that it's a bit jarring to read "a team of professors have." But we felt that "has" seemed jarring, too. Perhaps our editorial team, in proofreading the heading they (it?) originally drafted, should have reworded the sentence altogether.