Objectives

By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. identify  collective  nouns.
  2. determine  the notion of number of a singular  collective  noun.
  3. use singular  collective  nouns correctly.

What is a collective noun?

A collective noun is any single word that refers to a group of people, a group of animals, or a collection of things. The words listed below are examples of collective nouns. They are collective nouns because each of them refers to a group of people or a collection of things.

 family              class                team                committee       couple duet                 panel               collection        audience         trio

It means collective nouns are words for single things that are made up of more than one person, animal,  place, thing,  or idea.

Most  collective  nouns  have both the singular and  the plural forms.  Observe the forms illustrated  below:

Singular         family              class                team                committee

Plural             families           classes            teams              committees

How to use plural collective nouns

A plural collective noun is always interpreted as plural. It always counts as a plural noun and  so it selects a plural verb. In each of the examples that follow, the plural collective noun has been underlined once and its corresponding verb underlined twice. Observe how the plural collective nouns have been used in the sentences below.

  1.  All the classes (is / are) meeting today.
  2. The two families (has / hav e) always agreed on everything.
  3. The two teams (has / hav e) the potential to progress to the next stage.

You notice that each of the collective nouns in the sentences above appears in the plural form and requires a plural verb. Therefore, most students have no difficulty in their use of plural collective nouns. The rule is straightforward: “a plural noun requires a plural verb”. But when it comes to  dealing with singular collective nouns,  the rule is not simple and neat, though it is not difficult  to master it.

How to use singular collective nouns

A singular collective noun may be used in two ways. It may be interpreted as a single unit or it may be interpreted as an entity made up of a number of individuals. For example, in the sentence,

The class chooses Esther as its representative.

the collective noun class is considered as a single unit (i.e. singular). The collective noun class’ is interpreted as singular,  and so it selects a singular verb, ‘chooses’. But in the sentence,

The class disagree that Esther should be their representative.

the collective noun ‘class’ is considered as an entity made up of a number of individuals (i.e. plural). It is interpreted as plural, and so it selects a plural verb, ‘disagree’.

So, when the singular collective noun is considered as a single unit, it selects a singular verb, but when it is regarded as a number of individuals it selects a plural verb.Look a bit more closely at the two ways that singular collective nouns may be used and provide  even  more  examples,  placing them in contexts so  that you can gain a greater understanding of how singular  collective nouns are used.

i.   Singular collective noun as a single unit 

When a collective noun is considered as a single unit, it selects a singular verb. Observe how the collective nouns in the sentences below have been used. The singular collective noun has been underlined  once and its corresponding verb has been underlined  twice.

  1.  The class (has / have) elected Yomgo its chair.
  2. The family (is / are) holding its annual reunion today.
  3. Our team always (plays / play) together when it is winning.
  4. The jury (was / were) unanimous in its decision.
  5. The gov ernment (has / have) fulfilled all its promises.

But  the  question  is  how  do  you  determine  that  the  singular  collective  noun  is  to  be interpreted  as singular  or as plural?

Notice  that,  usually,  there  is  something  contained  in  the  sentence  that  helps  you  to know whether to  interpret the singular collective noun as singular or as plural.  Consider these sentences again.

  1. The class (has / have) elected Yomgo its chair.
  2. The family (is / are) holding its annual reunion today.
  3. Our team always (plays / play) together when it is winning.
  4. The jury (was / were) unanimous in its decision.
  5. The gov ernment (has / have) fulfilled all its promises.

 In Sentence  1,  the pronoun ‘its’ is singular and represents the singular collective noun class’ and  this tells you that ‘class’ should be interpreted as singular. Also notice that the singular pronouns ‘it’ and ‘its’ contained in Sentences 2, 3, 4, and 5, help you to know that the singular collective nouns family, team, jury, and government are to be interpreted  as singular.

ii.  Singular collective noun as a number of individuals

When  the  singular  collective  noun  is  regarded  as  a number of individuals,  it selects a plural verb.  Observe how the singular collective nouns in the sentences that follow have been used.

6.   The class (has / hav e) elected Yomgo their chair.

7.   That family (has / hav e) gone on holiday.

8.   Their team always (argues / argue) with one another when they lose a match.

9.   The jury (was / were) divided in their opinion.

10. The government (has / hav e) broken all their promises.

Do  you notice  that the singular collective noun ‘class’ in Sentence  is interpreted as plural? The plural pronoun ‘their’ tells you that ‘class’ should be interpreted as plural. Also,  the  pronouns  ‘they’  and  ‘their’  in  Sentences  8,  9,  and  10  signal  that  the corresponding singular collective nouns team, jury, and government should be interpreted as plural.  So,  usually, there is something contained in the message that tells you how to interpret singular collective nouns. This and other aspects of subject-verb agreement will be treated in detail in another lesson.

Special collective nouns

Apart from the general examples of collective nouns as discussed above, there are many special collective nouns that refer to certain specific groups of people, animals, or things. We refer to these collective nouns as  special because they are usually associated with specific entities. So, these special collective nouns are used in relation to specific entities. In other words, the special collective nouns collocate with a specific and special class of people, animals,  and things.

The following are some of the special collective nouns.  They have been put into three groups: people,  animals,  and things. When you learn to use them, your oral and written fluency will improve.

People

  1. an argument of wizards a band of musicians
  2. a bench of bishops a bench of judges
  3. a bevy of ladies
  4. a board of governors a choir of singers
  5. a class of scholars
  6. a company of soldiers a crew of sailors
  7. a gang of labourers a gang of thieves
  8. a host of angels
  9. a pack of rascals
  10. an assembly of clergy a staff of employees
  11. a team of players
  12. a tribe of natives
  13. a troupe of performers

Animals

  1. an army of ants
  2. a brood of chickens a covey of grouse
  3. a drove of cattle
  4. a flock of birds a flock of sheep
  5. a gaggle of geese a haul of fish
  6. a herd of buffaloes
  7. a herd of cattle
  8. a litter of cubs a litter of pups
  9. a nest of rabbits
  10. a pack of wolves
  11. a plague of locusts a pride of lions
  12. a plaque of insects a school of whales a shoal of herring a stud of horses
  13. a swarm of bees
  14. a swarm of insects a team of horses
  15. a troop of monkeys

Things

  1. an agenda of tasks an arsenal of guns an atlas of maps
  2. an anthology of poems a bale of cotton, wool a batch of bread
  3. a bouquet of flowers
  4. a bunch of grapes a bundle of rags
  5. a chest of drawers
  6. a clump of trees
  7. a cluster of diamonds a cluster of stars
  8. a clutch of eggs
  9. a collection of pictures a crate of fruit
  10. a fleet of motor cars, ships
  11. a flight of aeroplanes, steps a forest of trees
  12. a hail of fire
  13. a hedge of bushes a library of books a pack of cards
  14. a rope of pearls
  15. a set of clubs a set of tools
  16. a sheaf of corn
  17. a stack of hay
  18. a string of beads
  19. a suite of furniture a tuft of grass

Summary

  1.  A collective noun is any single word that refers to a collection of people, animals or things.
  2. Most collective nouns have both the singular  form and the plural form.
  3. A plural collective noun is always interpreted as plural but a singular  collective noun may be used in two ways. It may be interpreted as a single unit or it may be interpreted as an entity made up of a number of individuals.
  4. When a singular  collective noun is considered as a single unit, it selects a singular  verb but when it is regarded as a number of individuals,  it selects a plural verb.
  5. Apart from the general collective nouns, there are many special ones that refer to certain specific groups of people, animals,  or things. When you learn to use them correctly, your oral and written proficiency of English  will improve.

CONTENT CONSULTANTS

Author

John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.

Peer Reviewers

Modestus Fosu, Ph.D. 

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil. 

William  Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.