Family do or does?



What should I use

My family do not give me permission to be outside after 10pm.


My family does not give me permission to be outside after 10pm.

Now as I typed in MS-word it says does is correct. I do some googling and found that

"My family lives in Baltonsborough." The family as a single unit, all the members living under one roof.

"My family live in towns all over south-west England." The family as a group of individuals, each individual living a separate life in a different town.

Now in my context it may sound like I am referring to those only whom I live with, but in case of my uncles who are not living with me under one roof but also restrict me to be outside after 10 pm?

In fact scratch my logic, if you don't like the way I'm contexting. Tell me why family is considered as singular?

Anirban Nag 'tintinmj'

Posted 2014-01-04T19:19:47.860

Reputation: 292



A dictionary shows why this might be confusing. Looking at OALD, we find at least four definitions of family, all having labels like this one:

[countable + singular or plural verb, uncountable]

Which means that this word – a word in a singular form that refers to multiple individuals – can be used in several ways, depending on the context.

MS-Word's grammar checker is not always reliable, but it's steered you in the right direction in this case. In your sentence, family should be regarded as singular, because you are not talking about individual members of your family (who might all have differing ideas about when curfew should start), but the family as a single unit. This is how the word family is usually regarded in the phrase "my family":

My family goes out for pizza on Sunday night.

But this changes when we refer to the family members indvidually:

My parents and my sister go out for pizza on Sunday night.

A similarly-labeled word would be class, which can refer to a classroom full of students:

The class does not like Ms Kolzik; they think she is a mean teacher.
Students do not like Ms Kolzik; they think she is a mean teacher.

In the first sentence, the word class is singular, so the verb acts as if the word is singular, even though a plural pronoun is used in the subsequent clause. However, I can also say:

The senior class votes in student elections next week.

In this case, class refers to the class as a single unit, so the verb is written as though the subject is singular. This can be tricky, though:

The senior class all vote in student elections next week.

By adding the word all, I'm now referring to the individual students as part of a group, so the verb switches over to a plural form – each one of them will vote next week.


Posted 2014-01-04T19:19:47.860

Reputation: 108 123

Excellent. I have one confusion. If someone is referring to the senior class does it matter who the speaker is? – Anirban Nag 'tintinmj' – 2014-01-05T11:50:27.187

2It's more a matter of what the speaker is trying to say than who the speaker is. "The senior class is athletic" can mean there are a lot of star athletes in the class, not necessarily that everyone in the class is a good athlete. Similarly, "The senior class are idiots" means that the class is populated by a lot of inane characters, but there still might be some good eggs. The reason the verb changed was not because of who spoke, but because athletic is an adjective while idiots is a plural noun; I could say, "The senior class is idiotic" instead. – J.R. – 2014-01-05T11:55:35.320


The distinction is whether the members of the family are acting in unison (singular) or as individuals (plural), not whether they all live at the same location. As a result, the following is correct, since all your family members are acting in unison to enforce a curfew:

My family does not give me permission to be outside after 10pm.

Remember that you can usually avoid this problem by rewriting your sentence:

My family members do not give me permission to be outside after 10pm.


Posted 2014-01-04T19:19:47.860

Reputation: 4 481


"Family" is a collective noun. That is, it is a noun that refers to a group as a single entity. There are many collective nouns in English. Other examples are "committee", "team", or for that matter, "group".

In American English, a collective noun takes a singular verb. "My family does ..." "The team is ..." "The group has ..." Etc. I understand that British English has different conventions, but this is how it is in American English.

It doesn't matter that there are many members in the collection. There could be billions. Like, "The human race is ..."

Note this only applies when using the collective word as a noun. It is often possible to use it as an adjective. "My family members do ..." Now "family" is not being used as a noun, but as an adjective modifying "members". Similarly if you said, "The members of my family do ..." The subject of the verb is "members", which is plural. "of my family" is an adjective phrase modifying "members", and does not affect whether the verb is singular or plural.


Posted 2014-01-04T19:19:47.860

Reputation: 51 729