Agreement With Verbs
The rule to keep in mind is that collective nouns are singular, so they must be paired with singular verbs. This can be a bit counter-intuitive because we know that collective nouns refer to groups of people and things. Remember, though, that grammatically speaking, they are singular. Let's take a look at some examples of subject-verb agreement involving collective nouns.
You wouldn't use a plural verb and say, My family are big. You would instead use a singular verb and say, My family is big. Similarly, you would say, The local government has a lot of great programs for children. In this sentence, the collective noun is government, and we've correctly used a singular verb, has.
If you ever find yourself getting a bit confused as to whether a certain verb is singular or not, try pairing it with a singular noun and then a plural noun to see which sounds right. For example, you could say, One girl has a book bag, but you would say, Two girls have book bags. The singular verb is the one that goes with a singular noun, so we've confirmed here that has, which goes with the singular subject one girl, is in fact a singular verb.
Here's another example: The company hires a lot of diverse individuals. Spot the collective noun in this sentence. It's company, and we've correctly paired it with the singular verb hires here.
Don't be thrown off by the fact that hires ends with an s. Verbs that end in s are often singular, even though plural nouns usually end in s. Again, you can do a quick test to see what sounds right. You would say, One woman hires people, but Two women hire people. The first sentence has a singular noun and singular verb, and the second has a plural noun and plural verb.
Note that there is an exception to the rule that says that we must pair collective nouns with singular verbs. When you refer to the members of a collective group as separate individuals, use a plural verb in that sentence. Here's an example: The team are putting on their helmets right now. In this case, we know that the team as a collective group doesn't have one big head and one big helmet to put on. By virtue of what's being talked about in this sentence, we're talking about the team members as separate individuals, so it makes sense here to use a plural verb with the collective noun team.
Collective Nouns as Antecedents
There's another situation in which it's important to remember that collective nouns are treated as grammatically singular. You may remember that a pronoun is a word that takes the place of or refers to a noun. An antecedent is the word that a pronoun takes the place of or refers to. For example, if I were to say that The teacher gathered her books, the pronoun in that sentence would be her, and the antecedent to which it refers would be teacher.
Collective nouns, just like any other nouns, can be antecedents in sentences, and that means that they must be paired with pronouns. Here's the rule to keep in mind for this situation: Collective nouns are singular, so when they are used as antecedents, they must be paired with singular pronouns.
Remember that a collective noun like family, even though it refers to more than one person, is grammatically singular. If family is used as an antecedent in a sentence, that means that it must be paired with a singular pronoun. Here's an example: My family loves to take _____ yearly vacation. In this case, it might be tempting to say, My family loves to take their yearly vacation.
Using the pronoun their here would be wrong, though, because their is a plural pronoun, and when collective nouns act as antecedents, we'll need to match them with singular pronouns. Therefore, the correct version of this sentence is My family loves to take its yearly vacation.
Here's another example: The jury took its lunch break. Here, its is the correct pronoun to use to refer back to jury, because its is a singular pronoun. As a collective noun, the antecedent jury needs a singular pronoun matched up with it.
Just like our earlier discussion about pairing collective nouns with verbs, there's an exception to the rule about pairing collective nouns as antecedents with singular pronouns. When you use a collective noun antecedent to refer to the members of a group as separate individuals, use a plural pronoun in that sentence. Note that in our earlier example sentence, The team are putting on their helmets right now, we correctly used a plural pronoun, their, to refer back to the collective noun team.
A collective noun is a noun that names a group of people or things. Examples of collective nouns are government and team.
You have to think about subject-verb agreement when you use collective nouns. Collective nouns are singular, so they must be paired with singular verbs. There is an exception to that rule. When you refer to the members of a collective group as separate individuals, use a plural verb in that sentence.
A pronoun is a word that takes the place of or refers to a noun. An antecedent is the word that a pronoun takes the place of or refers to. Collective nouns, just like any other nouns, can be antecedents in sentences, and that means that they must be paired with pronouns. Collective nouns are singular, so when they are used as antecedents, they must be paired with singular pronouns. There's one more exception to remember. When you use a collective noun antecedent to refer to the members of a group as separate individuals, use a plural pronoun in that sentence.
After you've finished with this lesson, you'll be able to:
- Define collective noun, pronoun and antecedent
- Explain the proper rules for subject-verb agreement when using collective nouns
- Identify when exceptions to the general rules apply when using collective nouns