Collective Nouns in English Grammar

Collective Nouns in English Grammar

If we want to represent certain individual nouns as one entity we can make use of collective nouns. In this lesson you'll learn about their structure and uses.

Collective Nouns in English Grammar

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are nouns we use to talk about groups of things, animals or people. Of course, we can refer to these by using 'a group of...' but you should know that there's a more professional way and that is we give these groups specific names.
First, let's look at some examples:

If you want to play poker , we'll need a deck of cards .

Here, we did not say 'a group of cards'. We don't say 'do you have a group of cards?' we say 'do you have a deck of cards?'

These birds fly in huge flocks .

If you see many birds (a group of birds) together, they are called 'a flock of birds'.

Look at more collective nouns:

  • a panel of judges
  • a bouquet of flowers
  • a school of fish
  • a herd of cattle
  • a pack of wolves

Singular or Plural Verb?

Collective nouns like police, staff and audience might include individual members or be looked at as a whole unit. For example, police can refer to one police or it can refer to all police members as a unit. So, based on the intention of the speaker, he or she can either use a singular verb or a plural verb. If the speaker wants to refer to individuals he might use the plural verb and if he wants to refer to something as a whole he might use the singular verb.

The staff were invited to the party .

Here, we can use both 'was' and 'were' based on whether the speaker means the staff as a whole or individuals.

His staff includes both young people and old people .

Here, the speaker is talking about the entire staff and his whole collection of employees as one unit.

Let's look at another example:

My family is sad that I'm moving out .

Here 'family' is considered as one unit, therefore we're using a singular verb.

The panel of executives disagree with the proposal .

Here the members of the panel are performing an action as individuals. In this case, all or some members of the group are doing something independently and the group is not acting together as a unit.

British or American?

Deciding to use which form of verb to use is actually quite difficult even for a native English speaker. Keep in mind that usually in the United States and Canada, it is more common to use the singular verb. In the UK, it is more common to use the plural form of verbs.

Good to Know

If we want to be specific and want to clearly show that we are talking about individuals, add words like 'member' or 'officer'. This way it is clear that we must use a plural verb.

The staff members are invited to the party .

It is clarified that we are pointing to more than one.

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