English Collective Nouns

English Collective NounsWhen collectives mean groups and when members. How not to confuse them.


Collectives are nouns naming groups/things composed of members/elements (especially people). They may be common and proper, both as concrete/abstract. As concrete common nouns they denote object groups/pairs:

  • animate

family, crew, jury, army, audience, board, cabinet, class, committee, company, corporation, council, department, faculty, firm, group, majority, minority, navy, public, school, senate, society, team, troupe

  • inanimate

shorts, clothes, greens, savings, goods, dominoes, furniture, luggage, equipment, traffic

As abstract common nouns they denote feature/quality groupings:

tactics, politics, contents, looks

Concrete collective names:

the British Isles, the Azores

Abstract collective names:

the Renaissance, the Reformation

Collective Singularity

Collectives are single things made up of several. Units are composed of at least 2 elements.

Because people behave as both herd animals and solitary creatures, collective nouns can be singular/plural, depending on context. This double status often causes disagreement. People often behave collectively, doing things in unison with other group members. Sometimes all collective members do the same thing at the same time. With unanimous people collectives become singular requiring singular verbs and pronouns.

Today our class takes its first English exam.

Even plural sciences take singular agreement.

Maths is an exact discipline.

Collective Plurality

Collective members can behave separately. When members act as individuals, collective nouns are plural requiring plural verbs and pronouns.

After the qualification the class start their projects on American sports.


Britons as individualists traditionally use plural verbs. In fact, some sentences that are perfectly correct in Britain would be considered faulty in America.

Cambridge are winning the boat race.

Americans as team players treat collectives together.

The faculty is meeting after lunch.

To avoid collective disagreement, try their sentences in 2 ways:

1) by collective description

jury members, committee members, board members

2) by collective replacement

teamplayers, classstudents, armysoldiers

Using plural verbs and pronouns here makes collective agreement sound natural.