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collective noun


collective noun

Examples of collective nouns


A noun (such as team, committee, or family) that refers to a group of individuals.

In American English, collective nouns usually take singular verb forms. Collective nouns can be replaced by both singular and plural pronouns, depending on their meaning. (See Examples and Observations, below.)

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "The family is one of nature's masterpieces."
    (George Santayana)

  • "The minority is sometimes right; the majority always wrong."
    (George Bernard Shaw)

  • "The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence."
    (H.L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major, 1916)

  • "Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening."
    (Dorothy Sarnoff)

  • "Liverpool are magic, Everton are tragic."
    (Emlyn Hughes, referring to two English football teams)

  • "New York is now assured of winning the three-game series after going 0 and 7 away from home."
    (Associated Press, referring to an American baseball team)

  • Agreement With Collective Nouns
    "Nouns such as committee, family, government, jury, and squad take a singular verb or pronoun when thought of as a single unit, but a plural verb or pronoun when thought of as a collection of individuals:

    • The committee gave its unanimous approval to the plans.
    • The committee enjoyed biscuits with their tea.
    (David Marsh, Guardian Style, Guardian Books, 2007)

    "It is possible for singular collective nouns to be followed either by a singular or a plural verb form (see number):
    The audience was delighted with the performance.
    The audience were delighted with the performance.
    The first of these options is normal in American English. In British English both options are found."
    (Geoffrey Leech, A Glossary of English Grammar. Edinburgh University Press, 2006)

  • Colorful Collective Nouns
    "Many noncount nouns have an equivalent countable expression using such words as piece or bit (partitive or collective nouns) followed by of:

    • luck: a piece of luck
    • grass: a blade of grass
    • bread: a loaf of bread
    A common quiz question is to find the special collective term which describes such groups of things: a flock of sheep, a pride of lions. English has some highly specialized (but nowadays rarely used) collective nouns, especially for animals. . . . One of them [is] a kindle of kittens. Other colourful collectives are:

    • an exaltation of larks
    • a muster of peacocks
    • a rout of wolves
    • a skulk of foxes"
    (David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 2003)

  • Venereal Nouns
    "Venereal noun.
    A noun denoting a collection of persons or things regarded as a unit, defining them through word play. . . .

    "[S]portsmen of the Middle Ages applied the term 'venereal' to collective nouns naming the animals they hunted. The term now includes any collective noun built on a trick of language. In An Exaltation of Larks (Grossman Publishers, 1968) James Lipton lists six families of venereal nouns, as follows:
    1. Onomatopoeia (a murmuration of starlings; a gaggle of geese)
    2. Characteristic (a leap of leopards; a skulk of foxes)
    3. Appearance (a knot of toads; a bouquet of pheasants)
    4. Habitat (a shoal of bass; a nest of rabbits)
    5. Comment, pro or con, reflecting the observer's point of view (a richness of martens; a cowardice of curs)
    6. Error, resulting from an incorrect transcription that has been preserved in the language (a school--originally shoal--of fish)
    The creation of veneral nouns has become a popular pastime since Mr. Lipton's book appeared. These are from Mary Ann Madden's competition page in New York magazine:
    A riot of students - A peck of kisses - A mine of egotists - A host of parasites - A complement of sycophants - A range of ovens - A furrow of brows - A nun of your business - A lot of realtors - A knot of Windsors - A wagon of teetotalers"
    (Willard R. Espy, The Garden of Eloquence: A Rhetorical Bestiary. Harper & Row, 1983)

  • William Cobbett on Nouns of Multitude (1818)
    "Nouns of number, or multitude, such as Mob, Parliament, Rabble, House of Commons, Regiment, Court of King's Bench, Den of Thieves, and the like, may have Pronouns agreeing with them either in the singular or in the plural number; for we may, for instance, say of the House of Commons, 'They refused to hear evidence against Castlereagh when Mr. Maddox accused him of having sold a seat'; or, 'It refused to hear evidence.' But, we must be uniform in our use of the Pronoun in this respect. We must not, in the same sentence, and applicable to the same noun, use the singular in one part of the sentence and the plural in another part. . . . There are persons who pretend to make very nice distinctions as to the cases when these nouns of multitude ought to take the singular, and when they ought to take the plural, Pronoun; but these distinctions are too nice to be of any real use. The rule is this; that nouns of multitude may take either the singular, or the plural, Pronoun; but not both in the same sentence."
    (William Cobbett, A Grammar of the English Language in a Series of Letters: Intended for the Use of Schools and of Young Persons in General, but More Especially for the Use of Soldiers, Sailors, Apprentices, and Plough-Boys, 1818)
Also Known As: group noun
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