Collective Nouns in English: Singular or Plural?
One thing I notice quite frequently, at least with my German-speaking friends and students, is how they use collective nouns when they’re speaking English. Some things are only talked about in the plural, though they may look like they are singular.
Check out our Easy English blog for some collective noun idioms.
Collective nouns can be difficult for native speakers and English learners alike, so we thought we would turn our focus in this direction this week.
For more information about collective nouns, as well as some examples, read on.
What is a collective noun?
As mentioned briefly (quickly) above, a collective noun is a noun that may be spelled like a singular noun, but functions like a plural noun.
Collective nouns refer to a group or an amount of things that is considered as a collective (set group, things together). This can be a thorny (difficult, tricky- like the thorns on a rose bush) issue for some, because they look singular, and can take the singular form of the verb, but are referring to more than one thing.
(Although, yes, some of them take the plural form. Who said English was easy?)
- The police (they) have been looking for the suspect for days.
- That information (it) is very helpful.
Collective nouns can be particularly tricky because you have to know which verb form they take; singular or plural?
Our tip? Dust off the old dictionary if you’re not sure which form of the verb to use. It will usually tell you which form is correct.
Be prepared!: The biggest thing to be aware of when using collective nouns is subject-verb agreement. If you use the plural form of the verb, make sure the subject is also plural!!
- The government (it) is far from perfect; it has a long way to go, yet.
- The police (they) are very effective; they caught the suspect quickly.
Examples of Collective Nouns
Curious about some collective nouns? Here’s a list with some (but by no means all) examples, as well as if they take the singular or plural form of the verb.
Company – singular
Information – singular
Cast (of a play) – singular
Faculty – singular
Government – singular
Tribe – singular
Police – plural
*Milk – singular
Wine – singular
Beer – singular
Crowd – singular
Team – singular
Army – singular
Money – singular
Data – singular
*Many beverages are collective nouns, but we’ve included a few examples so you can see.
Can you think of any other collective nouns to add to the list? Give us your suggestions in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor and wishes money were plural! Haha!
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