This is the fourth and penultimate post in my series on nouns.
Collective nouns general rules.
The main things to be careful about when using collective nouns are; whether to use singular or plural verbs and which collocation you should choose to accompany the nouns.
What is a collective noun?
It is a noun that refers to a group of people or things. Examples are:
army, family, team, press, flock, committee, group
Singular or plural:
Generally speaking collective nouns can be used in the singular or plural (grammatically it is a singular noun but in our mind’s eye we perceive a group).
- The family are coming to dinner next week.
- The army are planning a new offensive.
- The finance committee meet once a month.
- A flock of geese is flying over the lake.
A large number of proper nouns also fall into the collective noun type: the United Nations, the BBC, the Air Force, Parliament, Ford, Coca Cola etc..
- Note, however, that in American English the plural form is often considered incorrect and the singular form preferred.
- We also tend to use a singular verb if the collective noun is used with the indefinite article a/an rather than the definite. A team of accountants has been appointed to oversee the project.
- Some collective nouns always take the plural form: police, people
- Some only take the singular: press, public
Collective nouns cannot be used with numbers:
- We cannot say Four staff have been made redundant – rather – Four members of staff have been made redundant.
Choosing the correct collocation
Now comes the fun bit!
- a pride of lions
- a host of angels
- a swarm of bees
- a clutch of eggs
The list goes on and on and even native speakers get into competitions about who know the most obscure ones (especially for animals).
These collocations (see my post on collocation in general) are mostly associated with certain groups collective nouns, most especially
- a pack of wolves, a flock of birds, a shoal/school of fish, a herd of cows
- a bunch of daffodils, a clump of trees, a bouquet of flowers
- a battery of tests, a batch of cakes, a set of books, a group of friends
Bunch of, group of and set of are the most commonly used and can be attached to a variety of nouns.
So, how to choose which one? Again it is something to study and remember. Choose a group (the animal collocations can be fun) and try out a few.
For noun collocation in general try this exercise from Gapfillers.
Next time – Proper nouns!