Parts of Speech: Couple as collective noun

August 25, 2005: Issue 102

The collective noun couple causes all kinds of agreement trouble. We’ll accept it as singular or plural, but we’ll insist on consistency. That is, if you use couple with a plural verb, all associated pronouns must also be plural. If you use a singular verb, all pronouns must follow suit.

incorrect: The couple treats their pets like family. (singular verb treats, plural pronoun their)
correct: The couple treat their pets like family.
incorrect: Once the couple was persuaded to rip up the carpet, they found beautiful hardwood underneath. (singular verb was, plural                      pronoun they)
correct: Once the couple were persuaded to rip up the carpet, they found beautiful hardwood underneath.

If you’re unsure, or if making complete agreement seems awkward, you can always switch to the couple’s names.

correct: Brad and Angelina treat their pets like family.
correct: Once Will and Jada were persuaded to rip up the carpet, they found beautiful hardwood underneath.

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