Posted by: episystechpubs | July 30, 2014

Editor’s Corner: Collective nouns, revisited

Good morning! Today we’re going to talk a little bit about collective nouns. This may sound familiar because we’ve discussed them before. Collective nouns refer to a group of people, animals, objects, or ideas as a single thing. What do I mean? For example, a collective noun for mom, dad, Billy, Buffy, and Skip the dog is “family”; a group of lions is a “pride.” Collective nouns take the individual members and wrap them up in a singular term.

Today’s question is: Do I use a singular verb or a plural verb with collective nouns?

Today’s answer is: This is English; it’s not that simple.

Collective nouns can be used as a singular or plural term; it depends on how the term is being used in the sentence.

· Tip #1: Try to figure out if the collective noun is referring to a group of individuals working separately, or a group of individuals working together as a single entity.

o Example of a group of individuals working separately: The class (they, plural) decided to stay outside longer and enjoy their (plural) lunches (plural).

o Example of a group of individuals working together as a single entity: The class (it, singular) voted to extend its (singular) school year.

· Tip #2: If it’s too hard to make a decision on singular or plural, precede your collective noun with words like “members of” which force you to use the plural form of the verb.

o Example: Members of the class (they, plural) sang as they (plural) walked across campus.

For elaboration on this topic, here is an example from grammar.about.com:

Nouns such as committee, family, government, jury, and squad take a singular verb or pronoun when thought of as a single unit, but a plural verb or pronoun when thought of as a collection of individuals:

o The committee gave its unanimous approval to the plans.

o The committee enjoyed biscuits with their tea.

And here are some Editor’s Corner topics on the collective nouns themselves:

o https://episystechpubs.com/2012/11/26/editors-corner-flock-of-seagulls/

o https://episystechpubs.com/2013/12/11/editors-corner-two-turtle-doves-and-a-grammar-lesson-in-a-pear-tree/

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