Should a Company Be “It” or “We”?

In the past week, two clients have written to ask whether they should refer to their company or division using the singular it or a plural pronoun. Below are their examples, slightly disguised. The underlining indicates the pronoun they doubted.

Company X wishes to express our sincere appreciation for Company Y’s continued support. 

Human Resources is welcoming a new member to our department.

What do you think? Can Company X take the pronoun our? Or would its be correct? Can Human Resources call itself "our department" or is "its department" a better choice? How do you respond to questions like these? Think about your answer before scrolling down to read my response. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The problem with both examples is not the plural pronoun. The use of plural pronouns to represent collective nouns—such as company, team, division, department, or unit—works fine to emphasize the individuals in the organization.

What's wrong is the use of the singular verbs wishes and is. If you want to use plural pronouns such as we, our, and ours, you need to use plural verbs. 

These examples are consistent, with all the plural parts underlined:

We at Company X wish to express our sincere appreciation for Company Y’s continued support.  

We in Human Resources are welcoming a new member to our department.

No doubt both clients used a singular verb because it sounds—and is—correct. "Company X wishes" and "Human Resources is welcoming" both sound natural.

But if the sentence parts are to hang together consistently, the word choices must all be plural or all be singular. The We solutions above use plurals: They add "we" at the beginning of the sentence and use a plural verb and pronoun.

Yet making the forms singular leads to more concise writing: 

Company X wishes to express sincere appreciation for Company Y’s continued support. 

Human Resources is welcoming a new member to the department. 

What do the style manuals recommend? They generally agree that collective nouns can be singular or plural and that consistency is essential. 

The Gregg Reference Manual offers this advice:

Organizational names may be treated as either singular or plural. Ordinarily, treat the name as singular unless you wish to emphasize the individuals who make up the organization; in that case, use the plural. . . .  Use the singular or plural form consistently within the same context. 

Gregg provides these correct examples:

Brooks & Rice has lost its lease. It is now looking for a new location. 

Brooks & Rice have lost their lease. They are now looking for a new location. 

 

The Chicago Manual of Style does not deal specifically with organizational names and the use of pronouns, but it offers this guidance on collective nouns: 

A collective noun takes a singular pronoun if the members are treated as a unit {the audience showed its appreciation} but as a plural if they act individually {the audience rushed back to their seats}. 

Chicago's examples would be more helpful with present tense verbs: 

The audience shows its appreciation. (singular)

The audience rush back to their seats. (plural)

 

Garner's Modern American Usage offers a lot of guidance on collective nouns, subjective-verb agreement, pronoun-antecedent agreement, and related topics, but it does not mention organizational units such as company, division, etc. (at least not that I can find). Garner does say that "Apart from the desire for consistency, there is little 'right' and 'wrong' on this subject: collective nouns sometimes take a singular verb and sometimes a plural one."  

 

The Associated Press Stylebook touches on the topic, saying, "Nouns that denote a unit take singular verbs and pronouns." It points out that team names typically take plural verbs; for example, "The Yankees are in first place" and "The Miami Heat are battling for third place."

 

So should a company be it or we? It's your choice. Just be consistent about using the singular pronoun it with singular verbs—and the plural we with plural verbs. 

How do you handle references to your company or team?

Find out about online self-study classes.   

Lynn
Syntax Training

10 COMMENTS

  1. When writing about a company, British English can use a plural verb and singular pronoun, as in this photo caption from The Scotsman: “Barclays are planning to speed up its cost-cutting drive by axing more than 30,000 jobs.”

  2. Very strongly feel that companies should be singular when you write about them but you can use the first person plural when you are writing *as* them, using their voice. For example, ‘here at Articulate, we feel that companies should be singular’. My feeling is that it rather depends on your perspective as the author – in or out – rather than grammar per se. But very interesting to see so many authorities take a more ambiguous or flexible line.

  3. Hi Matthew,

    The two clients who asked my advice agree with your approach–plural when writing about themselves. I too think it works–it’s just wordier than the alternative: “Articulate feels that companies should be singular.”

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Lynn

  4. Hi Lynn. Very good point. consider this:

    Tutorials Point (I) Pvt. Ltd provides no guarantee regarding the accuracy, timeliness or completeness of our website or its contents including this tutorial.

    I think it lacks of consistency. Are you agree?

  5. Shakiba, the comment below has been edited. I did not read the sentence closely enough before.

    ********
    The problem with the sentence is that the writer uses the third-person verb form “provides” with the first-person pronoun “our.” The sentence should be either:

    “Tutorials Point (I) Pvt. Ltd provides . . . its website” OR
    “Tutorials Point (I) Pvt. Ltd provide . . . our website”

    The second example works better because the first will result in two uses of “its” referring to two different nouns.

    May I point out that your closing sentence should read “Do you agree?” You probably saw that and could not edit your comment, but I need to mention it for the benefit of others.

    Lynn

  6. No I did not realize that. I am learning English.
    I thought “agree” has noun form :).

    When I saw that sentence in an ebook (= .pdf) I told the author that his sentence did not make sense. This sentence has been printed on, over 50 or maybe 100 ebooks. Then he told me that he has talked to an expert and the expert has said the sentence has no problem. The author is from India and uses British-English.

    Before coming here, I asked on English-community and someone there lead me here.
    https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/425880/can-our-be-used-with-singular-subject?noredirect=1#comment1020305_425880

    Thanks again.

  7. Hi Shakiba,

    I edited my previous comment because I had looked at the original sentence too quickly. Please review my previous comment again.

    The “its” that appears in the original sentence is fine because it refers to the website, that is, “the website’s contents.”

    Lynn

  8. Hi all,
    I’m italian and my company wrote -company- wish you etc… So it’s uncorrect right? It’s not a plural name like Brooks & Rice, so to me it sounds wrong. If I understand well, they should have used “We at -company- wish” or “-company- wishes”.
    I tried to tell ’em, unsuccessfully.

    Please let me know, I need to know! 🙂
    Thanks

  9. Hello,
    My company writes “The X Tourisme ( it is a company name) invite you….”. I would say “invites”.
    Which one is the right one?

    Thanks,
    Natalia

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