What Are Collective Nouns?

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  • 0:06 What Are Collective Nouns?
  • 0:52 Agreement With Verbs
  • 3:09 Collective Nouns As…
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

In this lesson, you'll find out what collective nouns are as well as how to ensure that you're using the right verbs and pronouns in sentences that contain them.

Collective Nouns: Definition

You've probably been to a party, or a gathering, or some sort of shindig where you met and got along with a whole lot of people, and you really felt like part of the group.

But, have you ever been in a crowded place where, though you were technically a part of the group, you felt isolated, on your own, kind of singular?

Keep that alone-in-a-crowd, singular idea in mind as we think about the topic of this lesson: collective nouns. A collective noun is a noun that names a group of people or things. Examples of collective nouns are:

band

class

company

family

government

jury

organization

and

team

The most important thing to remember about collective nouns is that even though they name a bunch of people or things, grammatically speaking, they're like that singular person in a crowd.

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.

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