Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 7th May 2008 21:24 UTC
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I guess it falls under the same sort of reason why those of the 'commonwealth' (NZ, Aussie, UK and possibly Canada) tend to refer to a organisation and use are, "Microsoft are a large organisation" - are being used in terms of plurality, meaning, the plurality of the components which make it up.

It differs per language. You can either determine plurality by looking at the meaning of the word in question, or by looking at the grammatical structure of the word. For instance, it's "a number of people ARE" in English, even though the subject ("a number of people") is grammatically singular. In Dutch, you get "een aantal mensen IS" (is = is), exactly because the subject is grammatically singular.

Another fun case is the notation of percentages. In English, you say "50% of people are", while in Dutch, you say "50% van de mensen is", simply because a percentage might be plural in meaning, it's still singular grammatically. This is actually something even native Dutch speaker struggle with.

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