English as a Second Language/Series


QUESTION: Dear Shannon,

I would like to know why "series" sometimes take a plural verb and sometimes a singular verb - which is correct?

(1) During the Soviet Union's Great Purge in the 1930s, a series of show trials were conducted to eliminate the potential rivals and critics of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. (Example taken from Article of the Day at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/)

(2) There has been a series of sexual attacks on women in the area. (Example taken from Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)

Note: I noticed that there is no "the" before "Soviet leader ..". Would it be a mistake if it is used?

Thanks for your continuous support.

Yours sincerely,

ANSWER: 1. You could use "the Soviet leader" with no problem, but with some situations (as we saw last time), the preference tends to be to eliminate the word "the" in many situations where famous people are concerned.

2. The problem is, there is no "singular" form of series.  There really isn't any noticeable difference between the usage, either.  If the focus is on the singular "set" of events, you might go with the singular form.  If your focus is on what the events were, then you'll probably use the plural form.  These examples show this difference.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Shannon,
Thanks for your reply! But "series" is not a collective noun such as group, family, committee, etc. In my examples, it is clear that it is singular as the indefinite article is used.
Could you please further clarify the matter?
Fond regards


Series indeed can be a collective noun!  Take a look at the three discussion threads above.  I found the APA Stylebook blog from their 5th edition especially interesting.  I don't think you should worry about this too much, because we don't as native speakers.  It's really an exception to grammar (we have many of these), and it just depends on your point of focus (collective singular, or the many plural elements of the items in the series).


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Shannon Cole


I can answer questions related to learning the English and Spanish language.


I have taught ESL and Spanish since 1998 at the university and middle school levels. I am a native of the U.S., and have taught in both the U.S. and Mexico.

I am owner and operator of www.coleinstitute.com, an online language school.

Georgia TESOL in Action (1999)

B.A. in Spanish; M.Ed. in Language Education

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I have clients worldwide, some who want their documents proofread, and others who take lessons with me through the Internet. Some work at high-profile companies and government organizations. Besides the U.S. and Mexico, my recent students come from South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, Colombia, Russia, Italy, Paraguay, China, Japan, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia.

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