A collective noun is a name used for a number of people, animals or things that we group together and speak of as a whole. For example, we say a bunch of bananas, a litter of puppies, a flock of sheep, etc. Viewed as a single unit, a group uses a singular verb; regarded as separate members making up the group, it takes a plural verb.

  • The family is planning an overseas trip. (The family is viewed as a single unit planning and goingoverseas together, so it takes a singular verb.)
  • The family are discussing about the plan. (The family members are taking part in the discussion and are no longer considered a single unit, so it uses a plural verb.)
 

A collective noun can take a singular or a plural verb.

The following nouns can be singular or plural. Viewed as a single unit, the noun takes a singular verb; regarded as a group of separate members or parts, it becomes a plural noun used with a plural verb.

Examples:

  • The new government has gained more support since taking office.
  • The Government are determined to keep inflation in check.
  • The explorers stumbled across a species of plant unknown to science.
  • Different fish species have been found in thecoastal waters of the island.
  • Data indicates that most of the offenders come from broken home.
  • We will not draw any conclusion until we have looked at all the data.
  • Statistics is included in this year's Mathematics syllabus.
  • The statistics tell us the current trend is towards more consumers' spending.
  • The enemy is calling for a ceasefire.
  • Security is very tight as the enemy are everywhere.

 

A collective noun treated as singular uses a singular possessive pronoun; a plural collective noun takes a plural possessive pronoun.

Examples:

  • Our team has won its first trophy. (The singular possessive pronoun is its. The singular possessive pronoun its agrees with the singular collective noun team.)
  • Our team are deciding on the strategy for their next game. (Plural possessive pronoun: their)
  • The full orchestra led by its new conductor is performing in the city.
  • The orchestra do not agree to the venue for their next performance.
  • The audience showed its approval by clapping and cheering.
  • When the curtain came down, the audience began leaving their seats. 

 

Two subjects expressed as a single unit and take a singular verb.

Examples:

  • Time and tide waits for no man.
  • Bread and jam is what he eats most in the morning.

 

For more on collective nouns, see List 3 - Collective Nouns.