How to Use Collective Nouns in Academic Writing
A collective noun is a naming word that names a group or collection of persons, animals, or things as a complete whole.
The boldfaced words in the sentences below are collective nouns:
- 1) Our class has forty-two students.
(Class is a noun naming a group of students.)
- 2) Their team played excellently.
(Team is a noun naming a group of players.)
- 3) The cast acted very well.
Cast is a noun naming a group of actors.)
- 4) Parents and children make a family.
(Family is a collective noun naming a group of persons.)
- 5) The commander ordered the army to advance.
(Army is a collective noun naming a group of soldiers.)
Rules & Examples for Correct Uses
In cases where the collective noun concerned is understood to refer to a class of things of a certain kind, rather than to a grouping of one particular thing, the general rule is the noun always takes a singular verb (verbs with –s ending), as shown in 6):
- 6) The furniture has been put into storage.
However, where a collective noun refers to people in general, or to a broader group of people, it is generally treated as plural and takes a plural verb, as 7) illustrates.
- 7) The people deserve a sincere attention.
Although, in other cases, it is not always clear which should be applied, and it is often up to the writer to decide which choice to make, since either form is acceptable:
- 8) The committee is undecided.
- 9) The committee are undecided.
The use of a singular verb underlines the unity of a group as a single entity, while the choice of a plural verb emphasizes its composition of many individuals.
Whichever choice is made, it is important that it is reflected in associated words or phrases in the same sentence, as shown in 10) and 11).
- 10) The committee is undecided, but it meets again in the morning.
- 11) The committee are undecided, but they meet again in the morning.
Consistency, it is worthy to note, is an essential factor in these cases.It will be incorrect to treat a collective noun as plural and yet attach a singular possessive pronoun, and vice versa.
Compare examples 12) and 13).
- 12) The committee has decided the proposal does not meet with their (its) approval.
- 13) The committee have decided the proposal does not meet with its (their) approval.
Likewise, where a collective noun is in the singular, its singular state should also be reflected in any attached adjectives, even though the accompanying verb may be plural, as is the case in 15).
- 15) This troupe are all professional dancers.
And where the collective noun become plural, any attached adjectives become plural in the same way, as is in 16).
- 16) These herds will all move south in the winter.
Note that some collective nouns are uncountable and cannot be pluralized, as is the case with the names of corporations, organizations and commercial institutions (as in the FBI).
The following list includes some of the more familiar collective nouns, as well as some of the less widely known.
|Individuals||Collective Noun(s)||Individuals||Collective Noun(s)|