A collective noun is a word that is used to refer to a number of people, animals, or things that we group together and speak of as a whole. Some examples: a bunch of bananas, a herd  of water buffaloes (plural of buffalo can also be buffalo), a litter of puppies, a flock of sheep, and a package of cookies

The use of a collective noun in a sentence can cause difficulty as to whether it takes a singular or plural verb. It depends on how the collective noun is to be expressed – as a group performing together or individually. If members of the group are viewed as a single unit acting together, a singular verb is used. If they are regarded as separate members acting individually, a plural verb is used. 

 

Examples:

  • The family is planning an overseas trip. 
    (The family is viewed as a single group planning for an overseas trip together, so it takes a singular verb.)
  • The family are discussing about the plan.
    (Members of the family are looked at separately, taking part in the discussion and are not acting as a group, so a plural verb is used.) 

 

Singular and plural collective nouns
Following are examples of collective nouns being used as singular and plural nouns. 

 

Examples:

  • The explorers stumbled across a species of plant unknown to science.
  • Different fish species have been found in the coastal 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. 
  • The enemy were advised to surrender. (The plural of enemy is enemies. But enemy, although a singular noun, can take a plural verb such as were when it is regarded as a group of enemies.)
  • Your puppy is sleeping underneath my car. (Preposition)
  • His left eye was swollen with a bruise underneath. (Adverb)

 

Collective noun must use correct pronoun
A collective noun treated as singular must use a singular possessive pronoun. Likewise, a plural collective noun takes a plural possessive pronoun.

 

Examples:

  • Our team has won its first trophy. (The singular possessive pronoun is its, and it agrees with the singular collective noun team.) 
  • Our team are deciding on the strategy for their next game. (Plural possessive pronoun their agrees with the plural collective noun team.)
  • 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.

 

Composite subject takes a singular verb
Two subjects can be so closely linked that they form a composite subject and expresses a single idea. A composite subject takes a singular verb.

 

Examples:

  • Time and tide waits for no man.
  • Bread and jam is what he eats most in the morning.
  • Bread and breakfast is what we will look for next.
  • Spaghetti and meatballs is my favourite dish.

 

(A list of collective nouns can be found on List 3)