CS Sealey

New Zealand-based sub-editor, writer and author

Collective nouns

A collective noun is a word that describes a group of people or things, and there are lot of them, as a different one is used for different situations and types of people. Examples of collective nouns for humans include:

faculty (of academics)

team (of players)

crowd (of people)

gang (of thieves)

choir (of singers)

troupe (of performers)

audience (of listeners)

Animals are usually grouped by species or kind:

herd (of buffalo)

pride (of lions)

school (of fish)

colony (of ants)

troop (of monkeys)

murder (of crows)

flock (of birds)

But when it comes to inanimate objects, the following can be used:

chain (of islands)

fleet (of ships)

library (of books)

wealth (of information)

bouquet (of flowers)

convoy (of vehicles)

constellation (of stars)

As you can see, there’s a lot and some get very peculiar, especially the older ones (a clench of sphincters and a beautification of spatulas, for instance). But once you collect a group of somethings, does that make the collective a singular or plural entity?

The clue here is to look at the article.

The colony of ants

A fleet of ships

The choir of singers

Despite the fact we are talking about multiple things (ants, ships, singers), the act of collecting them together into a group means they become a single entity. If you remove the singers, ants and ships from the sentences, you’re left with a colony, a fleet and a choir—all of which are easily singular entities.

The colony (of ants) was destroyed in the flood.

A fleet (of ships) is entering the harbour.

The choir (of singers) is heading to London.

So while we are talking about multiple people or things, the act of collecting them together into groups merges them into a singular entity.

How this affects things like companies, bands and sporting teams is a bit of a contested issue, depending on your locality. I covered this in proper nouns.

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