May 10, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Faculty and collective nouns & nauseated or nauseous

Posted in collective nouns, collective nouns and pronouns, collective nouns and verb agreement, faculty, nauseated and nauseous at 8:23 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Faculty & collective nouns

A reader writes:

I always enjoy your blog. One question: is “faculty” considered a collective noun? I use it a lot and frequently struggle with singular or plural. I guess I can do either depending on whether I’m emphasizing the group as a unit or the members?

The reader is absolutely right. ‘Faculty’ is a collective noun, and it can be plural or singular depending on the way it is used. And the reader is right about how one chooses to make it singular or plural: if the members of the group are acting as one—as a unit—then ‘faculty’ takes a singular verb.

The faculty has determined that all faculty meetings will occur outside of working hours.

If the members of the group are acting individually, then ‘faculty’ takes a plural verb.

The faculty were arguing about what to do about the increasing plagiarism on the part of the students.

Multiple individuals who are members of the group were debating various sides of the argument, so the plural verb is needed.

What I do, sometimes, to avoid seemingly awkward constructions is to include the word, members, when I am talking about faculty. ‘Members’ is clearly plural so the plural verb does not sound strange.

The faculty were pleased with the final decision.

The faculty members were pleased with the final decision.

The good news is that there are no rules governing this—it is a matter of tendency. In American English, we tend to default to using a singular verb if we cannot make a decision about which form to use. In British English, the tendency is to use the plural form. So here, when in doubt, use the singular verb.

Tip 2: Nauseous or nauseated

A reader writes:

Can you provide guidance for nauseous verses nauseated?

This is a very clear case of the language evolving, so my answer may surprise you. Traditionally, nauseated was used if someone was feeling ill.

The man was nauseated by the brutality  of the game.

And nauseous was used for something that caused illness or nausea.

The nauseous car fumes almost  made me faint.

But, as I said, this is a clear case of language changing over time. And the use of nauseous to mean feeling sick is very common—so common, in fact, that most dictionaries have usage notes indicating that nauseous  and feeling sick used synonymously is actually far more common than using nauseated to mean feeling sick.

Since I, myself, have said that I am feeling nauseous when I meant that I am feeling ill (not recently, thankfully), it would feel hypocritical for me to denounce anyone else using it that way.

This is one battle, I have no stomach for.



  1. Heidi Aigner said,

    I have really enjoyed following your comments since discovering this wonderful and very helpful site some time ago. After having lived in Germany for many years now, I have noticed my english skills are waning, and I am working on getting them back up to par.
    Please add me to your mailing list, I would very much appreciate receiving your tips per email. 
    Thank you very much.

  2. Daisy Arredondo Rucinski said,

    I would like to receive an email with the May 10 2012 blog comment about faculty as a collective noun. Thanks, particular professor

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