English as a Second Language/Q&A

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Question
QUESTION: Dear Shannon,

I am not quite sure how to answer this question.
"Does your family read a newspaper?"

What is the correct answer? "Yes, it does" or "Yes, they do".

Thanks for your continuous support.

Best regards,
Antoine Ghannoum

ANSWER: We would say, "yes, they do."  I know the grammar is a bit odd, but as the word family is very closely related to humans, we would never use "it" since that only describes things without gender.  Ironically, if we spoke of a group, it would be ok.  

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

QUESTION: Thanks! But I know that 'family' is a collective noun (we can use singular or plural verbs or pronouns). The writer uses "does" so he considers "family' as a unit, not as separate individuals. So why is the answer "Yes, it does" wrong?

Moreover, I read a another sentence saying "The family is determined to press its claim." ("its" not "their").

It is quite confusing. Please help me out!

Answer
Unfortunately, this is something that has no easy answer.  If you use British English, it is always plural, but I'm not sure about limitations or usage in question words.  I, personally, have never heard the question, "Do your family...," "Do your team...," or "Do your government...," etc.  Typically in American English, we like to use the singular entity in question words.  In your subsequent reference back to the collective noun, basically if you think of the family as one unit, it is singular.  If you are considering them as individuals, you would use them separately, even if the original reference was singular.

http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1105624
http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/collective-nouns.aspx
http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-who-that.aspx
http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/singular-they-and-the-many-reas

English as a Second Language

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Shannon Cole

Expertise

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

Experience

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.

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

Publications
Georgia TESOL in Action (1999)

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

Past/Present Clients
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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