Sunday, April 06, 2008

Staff Is or Staff Are?

Welcome to the 200th posting on this blog! Since the first was on January 4, 2005, I should thank all of you who continue tuning in 39 months later.

Here’s a question from Angel L. Rom├ín, Deputy Director, Out-of-School Youth Initiatives, of the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development:

What’s preferred: “staff is” or “staff are”?

Angel is certainly not the first to ask that question, but I’m glad he did when I was in the middle of updating this blog. Here’s my answer, which may upset the grammar police: Staff can be used in a singular or a plural sense.

No doubt, staff is a collective noun and therefore singular, just like board of directors, committee, company, department, family, jury, organization, and team. For example:

My staff is the best in the business.
The bank’s staff works best under pressure.

However, we can use staff in a plural context as well, when staff members are implied. Cases in point:

Please give this data to the staff who are writing the report.
If you give this project to my staff, they would know how to manage it.