Use of a plural verb after a singular noun denoting a group of
persons (known as a noun of multitude) is commoner in the U.K. than
in the U.S. Fowler wrote: "The Cabinet is divided is better,
because in the order of thought a whole must precede division; and
The Cabinet are agreed is better, because it takes two or more
The following is adapted from remarks by Markus Laker, with some
editing to remove dependence upon a different context:
A number of people have hinted that British English differs from
American English in the use of group nouns. Here's a British answer.
If you treat 'government' as singular, it means you're considering the
actions of the government as a whole. So 'the government is killing the
people' means that the government is, for example, ordering the army to
kill people, or withholding food so that people starve to death.
If you treat 'government' as plural, it means you're considering the
individual members of the government. So 'the government are killing
the people' means that the members of parliament are going out at night
with knives and guns and murdering people one by one. This probably
isn't what you mean.
A number of other nouns, such as 'team' and 'committee', behave in the
same way as 'government'.
Compare this with the following discussion taken from Bergen and Cornelia
Evans's A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage under the heading
[Words typified by herd, flock, crowd, jury, family, nation]
when used in the singular may be followed by either a singular or a plural
verb. When what is said applies to the group as a whole, a singular verb
is used, as in my family is a large one and the jury was out for
six hours. When what is being said applies to the individual members of
the group, a plural verb is used, as in my family are early risers and
the jury were unable to agree. In general only the speaker knows which
form suits his meaning best.
The singular group name with a plural verb is used in England more often
than it is in this country. Very few Americans would say the herd were
thirsty. But this is permissible grammar for anyone who cares to use it.
(The Evanses go on to discuss several other considerations involved in the use
of group names, such as when to use who and which, the varying
opinions of grammarians as to whether or not it's permissible to use a group
noun as plural and singular in the same sentence, the use of group names with
a preceding numeral, and the existence of certain nouns which are not group names
but are used in the same manner. An example of the last is percent.)