Collective Nouns

Typically, words that identify more than one person, place, or thing are made plural in the English language. One "dog" becomes many "dogs." Collective nouns, however, are an exception. This unique class of nouns denotes a group of people, animals, objects, concepts, or ideas as a single entity. Once you review a few examples, you'll know exactly what these nouns are all about.

Comparing Countable, Mass, and Collective Nouns

Things start to sound really technical when we discuss countable, mass, and collective nouns. Let's clear some of that up right now.

  • Countable nouns, also known as count nouns, can be counted by a number or quantified by size. They appear in both singular and plural form. Examples include "three" puppies and "a hundred" love notes.

  • Mass nouns are also referred to as uncountable or non-count nouns. They signify unbounded amounts, such as of liquids, small objects, and abstract or immeasurable concepts. For example, "water," "rice," and "education" can all be considered mass nouns. A noun is considered a mass noun when its use can't be counted, modified, or quantified in a relevant manner.

  • Collective nouns are a subset of count nouns because they refer to a group of countable nouns as a single collective unit. For example, there are 12 eggs in a dozen and 52 cards in a deck.

Common Collective Nouns

There are many types of nouns that refer to units or groups in a collective sense. Here are some common examples:

Array of magazines

Audience of one

Band of brothers

Batch of DVDs

Bucket of water

Bowl of cereal

Box of chocolate

Bevy of options

Board of Directors

Bunch of flowers

Case of soda

Cast of clowns

Choir of singers

Class of students

Committee of experts

Company of dancers

Crowd of fans

Cup of tea

Department of Technology

Deck of cards

Faculty of Penn State

Family of trees

Firm of lawyers

Galaxy of stars

Gang of bandits

Group of fans

Jury of peers

Packet of salt

Party of two

Pile of garbage

Senate of the United States

Society of people

Staff of Dunder Mifflin

String of pearls

Tub of water

Vault of money


Note that, when group nouns are acting as individuals rather than a whole, it's appropriate to add or replace words to create references to the individuals. For example, you might add the word "members" after collectives like board or committee, or inserting "players" for "team" or "students" for "class."

Collective Nouns for Animal Groups

Next, there are unique collective nouns to identify a specific group of animals, be they mammals, birds or insects. Common collective animal nouns include:

Brood of chickens

Herd of elephants

School of fish

Colony of ants

Hive of bees

Skein of swans

Clutch of rabbits

Litter of puppies

Swarm of wasps

Drove of horses

Nest of robins

Team of vipers

Flight of doves

Pack of wolves

Tribe of goats

Flock of ducks

Plague of locusts

Troop of chimpanzees

Gaggle of geese

Pride of lions

Yoke of oxen

Using Collective Nouns Correctly

Nouns in the collective class can be used in either the singular or plural form, depending on the context of the sentence. For example, "family" is a collective noun because it refers to more than one person sharing a relationship. However, you can also use this in its plural form to refer to several "families."

Using collective nouns in sentences can be confusing because it's sometimes difficult to discern whether to use plural or singular verbs and pronouns. To use verbs and pronouns correctly, identify whether the collective noun refers to the group working as individuals or collectively in unison.

  • When the unit is acting in unison, it is appropriate to use the singular form.

  • When the members of the unit are acting as individuals, it is appropriate to use plural forms of verbs and pronouns.

Example Sentences

Consider these two sentences and how they illustrate whether the singular or plural forms are appropriate.

The class waits (singular verb) for its (singular pronoun) teacher quietly.

Here, the class is referred to as a unit acting in unison; the students are all doing the same thing at the same time.

The class begins (plural verb) their (plural pronoun) homework assignments while they (plural pronoun) wait (plural verb) for their (plural pronoun) teacher.

The class of students are a unit, but are acting as individuals; they are each doing their own homework assignments.

The Collective Whole

Gradual shifts in the ways words are used have contributed to the formation of this special class of nouns. To help you remember, there are a variety of online and printable worksheets, quizzes, and activities focused on collective nouns. To further test your knowledge, take a look at this Collective Noun Worksheet.

Collective NounsCollective Nouns

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