Many Hong Kong students use the word 'staff' wrongly, for example using 'staffs' to refer to a number of workers and 'staff' to refer to one worker. This is wrong, and this page explains why, and then provides an exercise for you to practise how to use 'staff' correctly.
'Staff' is a description of a group of people. It is similar to 'team'. Sometimes a staff and a team are thought of as a single group of people (e.g. 'The staff were very kind'), and sometimes as a collection of individual people (Most of the staff were from Hong Kong).
A single member of a team is 'a member of the team'. In the same way, a single member of the staff is called 'a member of staff '.
|Word||Part of Speech||Example|
|staff||noun, plural (a group of workers)||- We have seven hundred staff.
- A number of staff have asked for leave.
- Three-quarters of our staff are graduates.
- None of the staff have volunteered.
|staff||noun (uncountable, collective)||- The staff were very good.|
|a member of staff||noun phrase (one worker)||- She has been a member of staff for 20 years.
- Seven members of staff are on sick-leave today.
- Some members of staff are late.
|to staff||verb||- How are we going to staff the new office?|
|staffing||noun (uncountable)||- The Government has revised its staffing requirement to eighty.|
|staffed||verb (usually passive voice)||- They are staffed by volunteers.
- The Centre is staffed by highly trained teachers.
|-staffed||adverb (e.g. well-staffed, over-staffed, under-staffed)||- The ship is well-staffed, with one crew member for every three passengers.|
|a staffer||noun (one worker, American English)||- The studio is run by technical staffers.|
Third-person singular verb
Due to the fact that 'staff' can be a verb, the third-person singular present tense form is 'staffs'; e.g. He staffs his company only with people from his church.' However, this use is uncommon.
'Staffs' is sometimes used to mean the staff from a number of organisations; e.g. 'the U.S. had to reduce its embassy and consulate staffs in Cuba.' (The staff from the embassy are one staff, and the staff from the consulate are a second group of staff, so that makes two staffs.) However, using 'staff' is also acceptable here.
'Staffs' sometimes occurs where the grammar of an associated part of a sentence requires a plural; e.g. 'one of the largest news staffs in America' ('one of the' should be followed by a plural, and this is a comparison of staffs in a number of news organisations).
'Staffs' can also refer to other meanings of the word staff, e.g. flag staffs (the poles from which flags hang), or shepherds' staffs (wooden poles that shepherds use when herding sheep).
Instructions: Choose the correct option from the drop-down boxes:
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