Collective Noun in English Grammar

Introduction

Collective nouns are singular words that refer to a group or collection of people, animals or things. In British English, most collective nouns can be used with both singular and plural verbs. In American English, they are normally used with singular verbs only.

Learn about collective nouns in British and American English and get tips on their usage. Then put your knowledge to the test in the interactive exercises.

This evening, my family have decided to go to a concert. Tonight the band is playing with an orchestra.

The band have just performed their most popular song and the members of the crowd are going wild.

Next week the orchestra are performing at the opera house. They are very good, I’d like to see them again.

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Collective Nouns

British English

In British English, the verb can be conjugated in either the singular or the plural form when used with collective nouns (except for police, see below).

  • If the emphasis is on the unit (in impersonal expressions), we use the verb in the singular.
    Example:
    The band is playing with an orchestra.

    The band is a unit.

  • However, if the emphasis is on the individual members of this group, we use the verb in the plural.
    Example:
    My family have decided to go to a concert.

    The individual members of the family have decided.

American English

In American English, collective nouns are almost always used with the verb in the singular, but we can use plural pronouns (whereas in British English we have to use singular pronouns with singular verbs).

Example:
The orchestra is going on tour. They are very good, I’d like to see them again.

If we want to put the emphasis on the individual members of the group, we have to mention them in some way.

Example:
The members of the crowd are going wild.

Common Collective Nouns

Some common collective nouns are: audience, band, choir, class, company, crew, family, government, group, orchestra, party, public, staff, team

Example:
a class → refers to all the pupils who study in this collective group
a team → refers to all members who are part of this collective group

To Note

Police is always used with the verb in the plural form.

Example:
The police have caught the thief.
(not: The police has caught the thief.)

Quantifying Expressions

English has a lot of quantifying expressions which are used for a particular group of animals, people or things. These expression are formulated with a collective noun + of + plural noun. Some of the most common collective nouns and quantifying expressions are listed below.

Animals

Collective NounExample
a flock a flock of sheep/seagulls
a herd a herd of cows/elephants/giraffes
a pack a pack of wolves
a swarm a swarm of bees/butterflies

People

Collective NounExample
a gang a gang of criminals/youths
a panel a panel of experts/judges
a board a board of directors

Other Things

Collective NounExample
a bunch a bunch of bananas/keys/flowers
a fleet a fleet of aircraft/cars/lorries/ships
a pack a pack of cards/gum/lies/cigarettes
a pile a pile of rubbish/washing/books