An ELT Glossary : Collective nouns


Collective nouns refer to a group of people, objects, animals etc. Some examples : army, audience,  collection, constellation, committee, crew, crowd, family, fleet, flock, group, herd, pack, team.

a) Singular or plural? 

Collective nouns are countable - a family, two families. However, when the singular collective noun refers to animals or people, it can be used with either a singular or plural verb - depending on whether it is seen as "one group" or the collection of individuals:

In 1892 while the family was/were living in London...
The herd was/were grazing....
The committee was/were undecided...

This is not an option with collective nouns referring to "things". When the collective noun is singular, the verb referring to it is also singular :

His collection was famous worldwide.
The fleet was anchored in the bay.

b) Pronouns?

Similarly, as collective nouns referring to people can either be seen as "one thing" or a collection of several individuals, pronouns may also vary :

The team, which played its first Premier League season in 2014, ....
The team, who played their first Premier League season in 2014, ....

This may also happen with collective nouns referring to animals, but to a lesser extent.