What is a Collective Noun? Definition, Examples of Collective Nouns

Collective noun definition: A collective noun is a type of noun that identifies groups of people and things as a single unit.

What is a Collective Noun?

A collective noun is a type of noun that identifies groups of people and things. A collective noun identifies nouns collectively.

Collective Noun Example:

  • My class is exceptionally bright.

In this sentence, “class” does not refer to a single individual but a group of people. Even though the noun itself is singular, it includes multiple people.

This particular sentence refers to a group of students.

Common Examples of Collective Nouns

is family a collective nouns animalsDifferent groups of collective nouns exist. Here is a list of collective nouns, which is by no means exhaustive.

Collective Noun Examples:

People

  • team
  • committee
  • family

Animals (Things)

  • herd
  • litter
  • flock

Things

  • pack
  • bunch
  • pile

Collective Nouns and Subject-Verb/Pronoun Agreement

what is collective noun listCollective nouns: singular or plural? Generally, collective nouns are singular, even though they refer to multiple people or things.

For example, “army” refers to a group of individuals. However, the term itself is singular.

Therefore, collective nouns generally require singular verb forms.

Example:

  • The army invades the camp.
    • “Invades” is a singular conjugation for the verb “to invade”

Sometimes, a collective noun can be made plural.

Example:

  • The families attend the baseball game.
    • “Attend” is a plural conjugation for the verb “to attend”

Furthermore, pronoun agreement for collective nouns can be difficult to decipher. Even though a collective noun might refer to a group of people, the group itself is a thing.

As a result, the thing requires a third-person pronoun.

Singular example:

  • The army invaded the camp. It was successful at conquering the enemy.
    • “It” is the correct pronoun for “army” because the group itself is a singular thing.

Plural example:

  • The families attended the baseball game. They enjoyed their day.
    • “They/their” are the correct pronouns for “families” because the group is plural.

How to Determine Correct Agreement for Collective Nouns

For the most part, collective nouns will use third-person singular conjugation and agreement.

  • The army is.

-not-

  • They army are.

If you are unsure, however, take a look at the context of the sentence. If the collective noun is being expressed as a single unit, use a singular verb.

If the individuals in the collection or group receive the emphasis, a plural verb is acceptable.

See below for examples of this.

Specific Questions about Collective Nouns

family plural and staff pluralIs team singular or plural? Team can be singular or plural, depending on the context of the sentence.

If the collective noun (team) is acting altogether as a single unit, you use a singular verb. For example,

  • The United States women’s national soccer team is bound by the terms of its collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer, a federal judge ruled Friday. –The New York Times

In this example, team takes the singular is because it is acting as a single unit. The team as a single unit is bound to the terms of the agreement.

If, however, team is meant to emphasize the individual players, you use a plural verb. For example,

  • After a game, the team change out of their uniforms.

The members of the team are changing individually out of their uniforms, so you use the plural change.

Is family singular or plural? Family takes a singular verb. It is a single unit that is made up of multiple members.

  • A family is fighting over a $20 million Waiheke Island farm, with its elderly matriarch alleging she was unduly influenced when setting up the trust that now owns the property. –New Zealand Herald

In this example, family takes the singular verb is.

Is staff singular or plural? Staff can be singular or plural, depending on the context.

If the collective noun (staff) is acting altogether as a single unit, you use a singular verb. For example,

  • The staff is going to a company-wide conference.

If, however, the noun is meant to emphasize the individual actions of the members of the larger group, you can use a plural verb. For example,

  • All staff are expected to attend the conference.

In this example, the emphasis is on the expectations of individual, discrete members of the staff. Every single one of them is expected to attend the conference.

Team and Staff as Plural

is team singular or pluralWhile it is acceptable to treat words like team and staff as plural nouns in certain circumstances, it can sound strange to your readers.

If you are in a situation where you do want to emphasize the different individuals, consider adding a word to denote the members of the group.

  • After a game, the team members change out of their uniforms.
  • All staff members are expected to attend the conference.

These sentences are much clearer and won’t cause your reader to second guess your writing.

Exercises with Collective Nouns

Fill-in the black with the appropriate verb and/or pronoun.

  1. The council ________ ________   final decision.
    1. made their
    2. make their
    3. made its
    4. make its
  2. Behind my house, I found a hive of bees. We called the exterminator to remove _____.
    1. it
    2. them
    3. some
    4. its
  3. Mother always says the dust pile __________ from one spot to another, and ___ keeps her constantly busy.
    1. move/them
    2. moves/them
    3. move/it
    4. moves/it

Correct answers and explanation:

  1. “c” is the correct answer; “council” is singular and requires a singular verb and pronoun.
  2. “a” is the correct answer; “it” is the appropriate pronoun because the hive itself is singular even though it contains multiple bees.
  3. “d” is the correct answer; the “pile” is singular and requires a singular verb and pronoun.

Summary: What are Collective Nouns?

Define collective noun: the definition of collective noun is a collection of individuals regarded as a unit.

Here are a few features of collective nouns,

  • refer to groups or classes of people or things
  • are singular by nature
  • generally require third-person pronouns and singular verbs

Collective Nouns List:

  • Army
  • Department
  • Family
  • Firm
  • Jury
  • Majority
  • Public
  • Society
  • Team
  • Faculty