Sometimes when speaking English, you can run into problems with structures that look like they should be simple... but they make you think twice!
"Everybody has problems" or "Everybody have problems"?
"The police is searching" or "The police are searching"?
Today's lesson focuses on some of the tricky nouns in the English language – collective nouns, and whether they are singular, plural, or both.
Collective nouns are used to describe a group or collection of individuals.
This includes groups of people: a class of students, a crowd of people, a team of players etc.
animals: a herd of cattle, a flock of birds, a pack of dogs etc.
and inanimate objects: a bunch of keys, a deck of cards, a bouquet of flowers etc.
Take a guess as to the best word to complete each of these sentences:
The committee are / is discussing the matter.
The population was / were growing.
The volleyball team has / have some good players.
The answers are is, was, and has.
Collective nouns usually take the singular form of the verb, because we are referring to the group of people as a single unit.
Other collective nouns that take the singular form include:
army, audience, class, club, committee, community, company, council, crowd, department, electorate, family, * group, jury, orchestra, population, press, public, school, team,* university
Pay attention to some exceptions: in British English, family and team take the plural form of the verb!!
· Non-specific expressions like everyone, anyone, someone, and no one (and everybody, anybody, somebody, and nobody) also take the singular form:
Everybody was laughing.
Does anyone know what time it is?
Somebody has been using my computer.
No one agrees with me.
· Although the words public and population are singular, the word people is plural (it is the plural form of "person"):
Most of the people are happy with the decision.
Most of the public is happy with the decision.
The people approve of the new president.
The population approves of the new president.
· The word police is usually plural:
The police are looking for the suspect.
Police have released a statement about the crime.
If we want to talk about an individual member of the police, we can say policeman, policewoman, or police officer.
A police officer questioned the witness.
A police questioned the witness.
The words pair and couple can be singular or plural.
· Pair is usually singular, especially when talking about one object:
This pair of trousers is very elegant.
Did you take the pair of scissors that was on the desk a minute ago?
However, it can sometimes be plural when talking about a set of two separate objects:
A pair of horses were pulling the carriage.
· The word couple is usually plural, when in the expression "a couple of (objects)":
A couple of kids are playing in the street.
Only a couple of the tasks have been completed.
However, when talking about a romantic couple (husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, or same-sex couples), we can use the singular verb because we consider the two people as one unit:
A very affectionate couple was sitting behind me at the movie theater.
People have 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?
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.
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.
ü 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.
Now imagine five young people in the living room. Are they all doing the same thing at once? Not likely! One is playing the guitar. Another is watching TV. The third has one eye on the TV and the other on his computer.
There is a single group of young people but the members of the group are doing different things. Members of the collective noun are not functioning in unison.
After taking a test, the class start their papers on Shakespeare’s sonnets.
ü Class is a plural collective noun in this example. 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.
What happens if you can’t decide whether a collective noun is singular or plural?
You can use different words to compose your sentence.
For example, you can insert the word “members” after a collective noun or use a different word such as students instead of class, players instead of team, zebras instead of herd.
Collective nouns are considered one of the ‘oddities’ of the English language, with a large amount of terms used. Some of these are pretty unusual and funny. Look!
a murder of __ crows
a caravan of __ camels
a school of__ fish
an army of __ caterpillars
a peep of __ chickens
a litter of __ kittens/puppies
a wisdom of __ wombats
a parliament of __ owls
a smack of__ jellyfish
a crash of __ rhinos
a tower of__ giraffes
That's a bunch of collective nouns, right?