Collective Nouns

Collective Nouns

A collective noun is a word used to represent a group of people, animals, or things.

Easy Examples of Collective Nouns

  • group, team, crowd, committee, flock, choir

Real-Life Examples of Collective Nouns

Here are some commonly used collective nouns for people:
  • a band of musicians, a board of directors, a choir of singers, a class of students, a gang of thieves, a pack of thieves, a panel of experts, a team of players, a troupe of dancers
  • A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours. (American comedian Milton Berle)
Here are some collective nouns for animals:
  • an army of ants, a flock of birds, a flock of sheep, a herd of deer, a hive of bees, a litter of puppies, a murder of crows, a pack of hounds, a pack of wolves, a school of fish, a swarm of locusts, a team of horses, a pride of lions
Here are some collective nouns for things:
  • a bouquet of flowers, a bunch of flowers, a fleet of ships, a forest of trees, a galaxy of stars, a pack of cards, a pack of lies, a pair of shoes, a range of mountains, a wad of notes
Some collective nouns are quite versatile.
  • a pack of thieves, a pack of wolves, a pack of cards, a pack of lies
Of interest, collective nouns that describe a specific group of animals are called terms of venery.
  • colony of ants, hive of bees, school of dolphins, parliament of owls, cloud of bats, mob of kangaroos, murder of crows

Why Should I Care about Collective Nouns?

By far the most common question about collective nouns is whether to treat them as singular or plural. In other words, should you write the group is or the group are? Well, both can be right. You should treat a collective noun as singular or plural depending on the sense of your sentence.
  • The shoal was moving north.
  • The shoal were darting in all directions.
  • (In the first sentence, the shoal is considered as one unit. Therefore, shoal is treated as singular. However, in the second example, the shoal is considered as lots of individuals, and shoal is treated as plural.)
  • The audience is happy.
  • The audience are all wearing comedy wigs.
  • (In the first sentence audience is singular. In the second, it's plural.)
  • There is always an incredible crowd that follows me. In Rome, even the men kiss me. (Boxer Muhammad Ali)
  • I have played some of my best tennis away from home, but it can be tough when the crowd are spitting on you. (Australian tennis player Lleyton Hewitt) (In the first sentence crowd is singular. In the second, it's plural. Lleyton Hewitt would have instinctively chosen crowd are over crowd is because not all the individuals in the crowd would have been spitting at him, compelling him to think of the crowd as lots of individuals.)
As a general rule, you should treat a collective noun as singular unless you have a good reason for treating it as plural. If it feels a little uncomfortable treating a collective noun as singular or plural, add a term like members of to force a plural term.
  • The members of the audience are happy.
  • The members of the audience are all wearing comedy wigs.
  • (There is no longer a decision to make. The phrase members of the audience is plural.)
Once you've decided whether your collective noun is singular or plural, stay consistent throughout your sentence.
  • The group is happy with their performance. [a bit scruffy]
  • (is = singular / their = plural)
  • The group is happy with its performance. [tidy]
  • (is = singular / its = singular)
While some collective nouns (e.g., pack, group) can be used with different things, most can't. For example, you probably shouldn't say:
  • a bouquet of wolves [wrong]
  • a swarm of lions [wrong]
  • a litter of ships [wrong]
Hang on. Let's look at those again. The term "a swarm of lions" conjures an image of lots of lions in a frenzy, which would be an effective and interesting way to describe that situation. Therefore, deliberately using the wrong collective noun could add a useful connotation. For example:
  • a pack of ships
  • (This gives the idea of ships hunting likes wolves or thieves. It brings pirates to mind.)
  • a forest of soldiers
  • (This gives the idea of thousands of stationary soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder.)
  • A flock of men is more easily driven than a single one. (Economist Richard Whately)

Key Points

  • Treat a collective noun as singular unless the context highlights the individuals in the group.
    • The choir is out of tune.
    • The choir were fainting due to the heat.
  • If you're uncomfortable treating a collective noun as singular or plural, put a term like members of in front so it reads smoothly as a plural.
    • The members of the choir were fainting due to the heat.
  • Once you've decided whether your collective noun is singular or plural, be consistent throughout your sentence.
    • The group is changing its strategy.
    • The group are changing their shirts.
  • Using the "wrong" collective noun could be a useful creative-writing technique.
    • a swarm of students
Home Page Mathematics Monster Cyber Definitions Grammar Monster