Collective Nouns and How to Use Them
Carlene PalmManager, Client & Author Services
Doing It Together: Understanding Collective Nouns
One of the most basic grammar rules is subject and verb agreement. Without it, a sentence quickly becomes confusing. If you have a singular subject, you use a singular verb:
• This sandwich is delicious.
If you have a plural subject, you use a plural verb:
• Cats and dogs are common household pets.
In your writing for Textbroker, you might have noticed that, when you write about business topics, you use words like staff or committee; other topics might require you to use words like society, team, group, audience or family. These words are all known as collective nouns. Collective nouns bundle individuals into a whole that acts as a single unit. Therefore, most of the time, collective nouns use a singular verb.
• The committee holds meetings at the local recreation center.
• My family likes to play board games on Friday nights.
You also want to stick to pronoun consistency when using collective nouns.
• The audience shows its appreciation by clapping at the end of the play.
Ultimately, if you aren’t sure whether the word you are using takes a plural or singular verb, you can always check your usage or change the sentence by substituting words like members or individuals that are more obviously plural.
• The members of the team practice during the day.
Collective Proper Nouns
Collective nouns are especially common when using proper nouns like the names of music groups and businesses. While made up of several members, they function as a group:
• Imagine Dragons is performing in Las Vegas.
• Starbucks uses the largest number of coffee cups in the world.
If you substitute the generic collective nouns “the band” or “the company” for the proper nouns above, it becomes clear that a singular verb should be used.
In the English language, there are always exceptions. A common example is sports teams where the team name—a collective noun—uses the plural, but referring to the team by its city uses the singular.
• The Patriots have won several Super Bowls.
• New England is playing in the Super Bowl again this year.
You might also discover that this rule with collective nouns doesn’t necessarily apply if you are asked to write something using British English where a plural verb is used with collective nouns if the group is acting as a whole but switches to singular if members within the group act individually.
• The staff are expecting guests to arrive around noon.
• The staff is busy preparing rooms for guests.
Additionally, in American English, while words like couple or pair are both collective nouns, it’s acceptable to use either singular or plural verbs, depending on whether you think your subject is acting individually or together. The important thing is to be consistent within your piece of writing.
• The pair of ducks are waddling by the pond -or- The pair of ducks is waddling by the pond.
Related To Collective Nouns
When you have a quantity, measurement, time period or an amount that is grouped together, it might look plural, but you use the singular verb.
• Three dollars is not a lot of money.
• Fifty years is a long time.
Mass nouns, also called noncount nouns since they can’t have a number placed in front of them, cannot be plural. So, words like furniture, equipment, sand and homework use a singular verb.
• This new computer equipment uses advanced technology.
• Her furniture was arranged to allow a full view of the TV.
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