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Grammar Tip – Staff Is or Staff Are

The word staff is a collective noun. It represents a group. Some other examples of collective nouns are board, committee, company, organization, department, and faculty.

The trick with these words is that when the group is acting in harmony, you must use the singular form of the verb.

Correct

The customer service staff is not available after 6:00 p.m. (This is correct because we are referring to all staff members – no one is available.)

Incorrect

Staff is arguing about the new parking policy. (This is incorrect because the group is not acting as a unit.)??If the members of the collective group are acting separately, you must use the plural form of the verb.

Correct

The committee are arguing about the succession plan.

Note: Although this statement is correct grammatically, I believe it is awkward. I would suggest adding the phrase the members of.

Correct

The members of the committee are arguing about the succession plan.

Word Choice – Off or Off of

Andy’s question: “Is it proper grammar to use ‘Billy jumped off of the ladder’? I don’t think so. I think it should be ‘Billy jumped off the ladder.’”

BizWritingTip response: “Off” and “of” are both prepositions. A preposition is a word mainly used before a noun or pronoun to show its relationship with other words. Some examples of prepositions are with, by, to, in, to, into, between, on, off and of.

If you keep the placement rule in mind, it makes no sense to have a preposition (off) before another preposition (of). Therefore, grammar books agree off of is superfluous and should be avoided when writing.

Examples (correct when writing)

Billy jumped off the ladder.
The box fell off the shelf.

Interestingly, off of can be found in the works of early English writers going back to the 16th century, e.g., Shakespeare’s play Henry VI. But times change.

In speaking, off of is considered an Americanism. The Brits and Canadians more commonly use off by itself.

Note: Nowadays, a preposition can also be the last word in a sentence whether you are writing or speaking.

Examples (correct)

Is this the report you were referring to?
This is something we need to talk about.

Isn’t English fun?

Tip Sheet with

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember which preposition belongs with a word. If you use the wrong one, you could lose your intended meaning. Therefore, we’ve put together a Free Tip Sheet that lists many commonly used phrases with their necessary prepositions.