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Collective Nouns. What Does It Mean?


Collective nouns are not something that can be collected or gathered, not mushrooms and not berries. These are words that denote a group of objects, people or animals. A pile of things, a group of people, a flock of birds – these are such nouns. This includes such words as the army, the government, the collective – we think you understood the idea. In contrast to other languages, the use of these nouns in English has several characteristics. Check this article at to learn more.

What Are They?

  • 1. Universal

    Let us start by looking at these collective numbers, on what they are. Let us start with universal words that can be used with almost all nouns – both with things and with people.

    • Group: a group of writers, a group of stones;
    • Number: a number of islands, a number of fellows;
    • Bunch: funny word, but it does not only mean a sheaf (a bunch of flowers), but can be used with almost anything: a bunch of money, a bunch of questions, etc.
  • 2.For a group of subjects

    Here are some of the most typical collective nouns in English for a group of subjects:

    • Series: a series of events;
    • Pack: a pack of logos;
    • Set: a set of criteria;
    • Pile: a pile of work.
  • 3.For a group of people

    Here are some words you can name different groups of people:

    • Gang: a gang of youths;
    • Crew/team: a crew of professionals, a team of pilots;
    • Troop: troop of soldiers;
    • Crowd: crowd of fans.

    Here you can include such words as government, army, staff, audience, family.

    Generally speaking, English is very inventive with collective nouns. Such as parliament of drivers, college of cardinals or hastiness of cooks. In general, there are dozens of names for groups of people of different professions. Although in real life they are not something that few people use, they are something that generally few people know. Therefore, for real life, it is always enough such words as group, bunch or number.

  • 4. For animals

    English is no less ingenious in names for groups of different types of animals. Here are the most common:

    • Pack: a pack of foxes;
    • Swarm: a swarm of flies;
    • Flock: a flock of gulls;
    • Herd: herd of cows.

    There are very entertaining ones among rare collective nouns: a parliament of owls, a congress of baboons, a murder of crows, a gam of whales.

    It is said that in total in English it is possible to count up to 200 different words for different groups of objects, people or animals. Honestly, we did not count, but we would not be surprised if there are more than two hundred of them. The Internet has resources, where you can not only read articles on the topic, but also try to perform the exercises. Evaluate your knowledge here.

A Multiple or a Singular Number? Is or Are?

There is no problem with the number of collective numerals in many languages. Everything is not so clear in English. And the answer depends on whether you use the British or American version of English.

  • British version

    Let us start with the British variant – the choice between a singular family is form and multiple family are depends on whether you want to characterize the family as a single entity or as several individual members.

    My wife's family are writers – bearing in mind that "each of the family is a writer". The generalization does not take place and as a result singular number cannot be used.

    The team has won many competitions (not has won) – meaning "each member of the team won many competitions". Here we are talking about individual members, therefore, we use the plural number.

    My family is not big. Obviously, we are talking about the family as a whole.

    The government has decided to repair roads. Even if there were those inside the government who were against repairing roads, the government as a whole, as one governing body, still decided to repair them – therefore the singular number.

  • American version

    Everything is much simpler In the American variant – collective nouns are in the singular number almost always.

    The plural form is also acceptable, but it is used less often than in the British version – only when it is absolutely necessary to emphasize that we are talking about a group of individual members.

    People are always in the plural: people are. This is easy enough to explain, because people – this is the plural of the word person. And to learn this once and for all remember the song of Doors "People are strange".

    The second one is the word police. In English, it is always only plural.

    Remember these rules and speak correctly.

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