Grammar Rules

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are names for a collection or a number of people or things. Words like group, herd, and array are collective noun examples. Here, we’ll take a closer look at collective nouns, and provide even more examples, placing them in context so you can gain a greater understanding of how they work.

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What is a Collective Noun

You might not know it, but you encounter collective nouns in everyday speech. Collective nouns are words for single things that are made up of more than one person, animal, place, thing, or idea. You can’t have a team without individual members; even so, we discuss a team as a single entity.

Collective Noun Examples

Remember that nouns are words naming people, animals, places, and things. Collective nouns are in a class all their own. Once you’ve read these examples, you’ll find it much easier to recognize collective nouns when you see them.
  • Our class took a field trip to the natural history museum.
  • The herd of bison ran across the prairie, leaving a massive dust cloud in its wake.
  • We waited anxiously for the jury to come to a verdict.
  • This year’s basketball team includes three players who are over six feet tall.
  • Napoleon’s army was finally defeated at Waterloo.
  • The town council has approved plans to create a new park.
  • He comes from a huge family: he’s the oldest of eleven kids.
  • The rock group has been on tour for months.
  • Everyone in the audience applauded loudly when Elvis appeared on stage.

List of Common Collective Nouns

This list of common collective nouns contains words that describe groups of animals, people, or things. These words are sometimes interchangeable, and English writers and speakers often use them to describe different things. For example, the word swarm is usually used to discuss a group of insects such as ants, flies or bees, but many writers use it to talk about a very busy crowd of people. Once you are familiar with these words, you’ll notice that they are used in a variety of situations.

  • Herd– A group of herbivore animals
  • Pack– A group of canine animals such as wolves or dogs; also used to describe playing cards and packages containing multiple objects
  • Flock– A group of birds; also used to discuss small hooved animals such as sheep or goats
  • Swarm– A group of insects
  • Shoal– A group of fish
  • Group – A very general term used to describe people, places, things, and animals
  • Crowd – Usually used to describe a group of people
  • Gang – Usually used to describe a group of criminals; also used to describe a group of workers, particularly sailors or dock workers
  • Mob – Normally used to describe an angry or unruly group of people; also used to describe a group of kangaroos
  • Staff – A group of people who work in the same place
  • Crew – Usually used to denote a group of workers; also used to describe aircraft and ships personnel
  • Choir – A large, organized group of singers
  • Orchestra – A large, organized group of instrumentalists, led by a conductor
  • Panel – A group of experts
  • Board – A group of people, usually professionals, who take on an advisory role
  • Troupe – A group of actors or acrobats; also used to describe a group of monkeys
  • Bunch – Usually a group of smallish objects such as grapes, flowers, keys, or bananas
  • Pile – An untidy collection of items such as rubbish
  • Heap – A mounded collection of items; used interchangeably with "pile"
  • Set – A tidy group of matched objects such as dishes; also used to describe rules or a social group of people
  • Stack – A group of items neatly laid one on top of another; i.e., a stack of books
  • Series – Used to discuss movies, books, or events that follow one after another, i.e. Star Trek or Harry Potter
  • Shower – Usually used to describe rain, although it can be used to describe gifts or compliments
  • Fall – Often used to discuss weather, such as rain, snow or hail

What happens if you can’t decide whether a collective noun is singular or plural?

You can use different words to compose your sentence to be sure there is no agreement error. For example, you can insert the word “members” after a collective noun or use a different word such as “players” instead of “team” or “zebras” instead of “herd” or “students” instead of “class.” Reread what you have written to be sure it sounds natural, and give yourself some time to practice. Soon enough you’ll be able to use plural verbs without worrying whether you have made mistakes.

How to Use Collective Nouns

People who are new to writing often encounter some trouble with sentence agreement when using collective nouns. This is understandable, because a collective noun can be singular or plural, depending on a sentence’s context. How do you know if a collective noun is singular? How can you tell if it’s plural? What pronouns and verbs are best for pairing with the collective noun you’ve chosen? Here’s a simple trick you can use to decide how to use collective nouns in sentences: Imagine a herd of zebras grazing peacefully on the savanna. Suddenly, a lion jumps out of a clump of tall grass. What do the zebras do? They run away as a single unit as they attempt to make a getaway, galloping across the savanna in the same direction. Often, people behave in the same way, engaging in a single activity in unison with everyone else in their group. When individuals are in a team, a choir, a committee, or part of any other collective noun, that noun is singular and is paired with singular pronouns and singular verbs. As you read the examples that follow, notice that each individual who is part of the collective noun is doing the same action at the same time as others who are part of that collective noun.
  • Every morning, the herd follows its leader to the watering hole for a drink.
  • Herd is a singular collective noun. Follows is a singular verb, and the word its is a singular pronoun. All the animals in the herd arrive at the watering hole at the same time.
  • Today, Ms. Kennedy’s class takes its SOL test.
  • Class is a singular collective noun. Takes is a singular verb, and the word its is a singular pronoun. All the students in Ms. Kennedy’s class are taking the same test at the same time.
  • The committee agrees that people are misusing their cell phones, so its verdict is that phones must not be used during working hours.
  • Committee is a singular collective noun. Agrees is a singular verb, and the word its is a singular pronoun. All the members of the committee are thinking alike.

Now imagine three teenagers in the living room. Are they all doing the same thing at once? Not likely! One is watching TV intently. Another is reading a book and listening to music. The third has one eye on the TV and the other on his computer. There is a single group of teenagers, but the members of the group are doing different things.

Members of collective nouns can act the same way, as individuals doing their own thing. When members of a collective noun act as individuals, that collective noun is plural and must be paired with plural pronouns and plural verbs. As you read the following examples, you’ll notice that members of the collective noun are not functioning in unison.

  • After eight hours sitting in the stuffy courtroom, the jury stretch, look at their watches, and head to their cars for the commute home. → Jury is a plural collective noun in this instance. Stretch, look, and head are plural verbs, and their is a plural pronoun. The members of the jury are stretching and looking at their individual watches before they head to different cars to go to their own homes.
  • After taking a test, the class start their papers on Shakespeare’s sonnets.
  • Class is a plural collective noun in this instance. Start is a plural verb, and their is a plural pronoun. Although the students are in the same class, they are beginning their own papers on different sonnets written by Shakespeare.

Collective Noun Exercises

Each of these sentences contains a collective noun. Select the correct answer from the options that follow the sentence:

  1. Keys, marbles, and rubber bands were just a few of the things in the pile of objects in his drawer.
    A – marbles, B – things, C – pile
  2. The boys decided to join the navy after graduation.
    A – boys, B – navy, C – graduation
  3. After the performance, all the actors joined hands and bowed toward the audience.
    A – performance, B – actors, C – audience
  4. The team celebrated heartily after scoring a winning goal.
    A – team, B – winning, C – goal
  5. Most of the students on the council are also on the honor roll.
    A – students, B – council, C, - honor roll
  6. The boat’s crew worked all night to stop the leak.
    A – boat’s, B – crew, C – leak
  7. The talent show featured several individual performers, along with three bands.
    A – show, B – performers, C – bands
  8. Our extended family includes great-grandparents and second cousins.
    A – family, B – great-grandparents, C – cousins
  9. All of the students are attending a school assembly on Friday.
    A – students, B – school, C – assembly
  10. The senate will be voting on three education funding bills tomorrow.
    A – senate, B – bills, C – tomorrow
  11. The teachers and administrators held a meeting in the faculty office.
    A – teachers, B – administrators, C – faculty
  12. The sheep clustered in a tight flock to ward off the cold weather.
    A – sheep, B – flock, C – weather
  13. Answer key: 1 – C, 2 – B, 3 – C, 4 – A, 5 – B, 6 – B, 7 – C, 8 – A, 9 – C, 10 – A, 11 – C, 12 –B