What is a Collective Noun
You might not know it, but you encounter collective nouns in everyday speech. Collective nouns are words for single things that are made up of more than one person, animal, place, thing, or idea. You can’t have a team without individual members; even so, we discuss a team as a single entity.
Collective Noun Examples
Remember that nouns are words naming people, animals, places, and things. Collective nouns are in a class all their own. Once you’ve read these examples, you’ll find it much easier to recognize collective nouns when you see them.
- Our class took a field trip to the natural history museum.
- The herd of bison ran across the prairie, leaving a massive dust cloud in its wake.
- We waited anxiously for the jury to come to a verdict.
- This year’s basketball team includes three players who are over six feet tall.
- Napoleon’s army was finally defeated at Waterloo.
- The town council has approved plans to create a new park.
- He comes from a huge family: he’s the oldest of eleven kids.
- The rock group has been on tour for months.
- Everyone in the audience applauded loudly when Elvis appeared on stage.
List of Common Collective Nouns
This list of common collective nouns contains words that describe groups of animals, people, or things. These words are sometimes interchangeable, and English writers and speakers often use them to describe different things. For example, the word swarm is usually used to discuss a group of insects such as ants, flies or bees, but many writers use it to talk about a very busy crowd of people. Once you are familiar with these words, you’ll notice that they are used in a variety of situations.
- Herd– A group of herbivore animals
- Pack– A group of canine animals such as wolves or dogs; also used to describe playing cards and packages containing multiple objects
- Flock– A group of birds; also used to discuss small hooved animals such as sheep or goats
- Swarm– A group of insects
- Shoal– A group of fish
- Group – A very general term used to describe people, places, things, and animals
- Crowd – Usually used to describe a group of people
- Gang – Usually used to describe a group of criminals; also used to describe a group of workers, particularly sailors or dock workers
- Mob – Normally used to describe an angry or unruly group of people; also used to describe a group of kangaroos
- Staff – A group of people who work in the same place
- Crew – Usually used to denote a group of workers; also used to describe aircraft and ships personnel
- Choir – A large, organized group of singers
- Orchestra – A large, organized group of instrumentalists, led by a conductor
- Panel – A group of experts
- Board – A group of people, usually professionals, who take on an advisory role
- Troupe – A group of actors or acrobats; also used to describe a group of monkeys
- Bunch – Usually a group of smallish objects such as grapes, flowers, keys, or bananas
- Pile – An untidy collection of items such as rubbish
- Heap – A mounded collection of items; used interchangeably with “pile”
- Set – A tidy group of matched objects such as dishes; also used to describe rules or a social group of people
- Stack – A group of items neatly laid one on top of another; i.e., a stack of books
- Series – Used to discuss movies, books, or events that follow one after another, i.e. Star Trek or Harry Potter
- Shower – Usually used to describe rain, although it can be used to describe gifts or compliments
- Fall – Often used to discuss weather, such as rain, snow or hail
What happens if you can’t decide whether a collective noun is singular or plural?
You can use different words to compose your sentence to be sure there is no agreement error. For example, you can insert the word “members” after a collective noun or use a different word such as “players” instead of “team” or “zebras” instead of “herd” or “students” instead of “class.” Reread what you have written to be sure it sounds natural, and give yourself some time to practice. Soon enough you’ll be able to use plural verbs without worrying whether you have made mistakes.
How to Use Collective Nouns
People who are new to writing often encounter some trouble with sentence agreement when using collective nouns. This is understandable, because a collective noun can be singular or plural, depending on a sentence’s context. How do you know if a collective noun is singular? How can you tell if it’s plural? What pronouns and verbs are best for pairing with the collective noun you’ve chosen?
Here’s a simple trick you can use to decide how to use collective nouns in sentences: Imagine a herd of zebras grazing peacefully on the savanna. Suddenly, a lion jumps out of a clump of tall grass. What do the zebras do? They run away as a single unit as they attempt to make a getaway, galloping across the savanna in the same direction.