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Team: Who, What, or Which?

June 12, 2014

Which team is your favorite?

Will you be discussing the World Cup in class? The 2014 FIFA World Cup runs from June 12 to July 13, and millions of people around the world will be watching and rooting for their favorite team. This sport is known as "football" to most of the world, but "soccer" in the US and Canada. Did you know that football/soccer is the world's most popular sport? It is played by 250 million players in over 200 countries. Starting today, the 32 qualifying teams will compete for the chance to be the World Cup champions! In honor of the first day of the World Cup, let's talk about the word "team"! When I was writing a blog post for another site, I wrote "Who is your favorite team?" Then I started questioning whether "who" was the correct question word to use. Should it be "what"? Should it be "which"?

Who or What?

The short answer is that anything goes. "Team" is one of those collective nouns that can be thought of as the people who make up the team or the unit itself. If you're thinking of team as people, you can use "who" (e.g., Who is your favorite team?). If you're thinking of team as a unit, you can use "what" (e.g., What is your favorite team?). However, neither of those questions sounded quite right to me.

Which?

So what's the best answer? In my opinion, to avoid confusion, it's better to reword a question and use "which." I reworded 'Who is your favorite team?" to "Which team is your favorite?" You can't go wrong with "which" because it can be used for either people or a unit.

Singular or Plural Verb?

While we're at it, should it be "The team is playing in the championship game" or "The team are playing in the championship game"? In American English, you usually use a singular verb for collective nouns, so "is" is correct in the example above. However, in British English, you can use either a singular verb (if you're referring to the unit) or a plural verb (if you're referring to the people). My advice is to use the singular verb—you can't go wrong!

Related Materials:

Go team!

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Comments (4)

Patricia (Guest)

What about: Words can inspire a team 'that' is losing a game or should it be Words can inspire a team 'who' is losing a game?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Patricia, great point! We can use 'that' in place of either 'who' or 'which,' so it's a great choice for 'team.' Using 'who' is also correct, but I don't think it's as common.

I'd go with 'Words can inspire a team that is losing a game.'

Hannah S.(Teacher)

Hello Is there an easy way to teach ESL students about participle and participle adjectives ?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Hannah,

I blogged about participial adjectives here: https://esllibrary.com/blog/how-to-teach-ed-ing-adjectives-9-simple-steps

Subscribers such as yourself can also find notes, examples, and practice on participial adjectives in these lessons:
- Adjectives (Grammar Practice Worksheets lesson) https://esllibrary.com/courses/88/lessons/2093
- Describing Experiences https://esllibrary.com/courses/92/lessons/2825

Hope that helps. Happy teaching!

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