Write about companies like people (but not all the time)

Writers seem to be split into three camps about companies: some think a company is singular, others plural while some mix it up depending on some arbitrary measurement.

(The third camp is my least favourite, even if they get it right roughly 50% of the time. If you’re going to make a mistake you should stick to it and make it all the time.)

The correct was is the first. A company takes the singular.

To put this in an example:

‘Google is the world’s leading search engine company’ is correct.

‘Google are the world’s leading search engine company’ is wrong.

The easiest way to check this when you’re proofreading is to replace all the company names in your head with a friend’s name. ‘Dominic is the world’s leading search engine company’ sounds completely right.

Some people get confused depending on the size of the company, but that shouldn’t be a consideration. Another common problem occurs when the company has a plural in its title: ‘Warner Brothers is based in California’, even though it sounds a bit like it should be ‘are’. It shouldn’t.

Two other things to remember about companies is that you should always use ‘it’ and not ‘they’ after the first mention (‘Hotmail’s great, it’s been my favourite e-mail provider for years’).

The other is that, with many companies’ names adopting strange spellings, capitalisations and punctuation marks, you should never take the logo for granted. Instead, look at a company’s ‘About Us’ page to see how it chooses to be referred to. One good is example is Facebook — lowercase f in the logo, capital F all over its profile page. (Some publications will have its own rules on some style issues — all caps can look odd while punctuation marks are sometimes avoided.)

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