What Is a Collective Noun? | Examples & Definition

A collective noun is a type of noun used to refer to a group or collective of animals, people, or things. Collective nouns are treated as grammatically singular, even though they refer to a group.

Collective nouns include both common nouns (such as “family”) and proper nouns, like “Apple” or “QuillBot.”

Collective noun examples
The herd of elephants lumbered gracefully through the savanna.

Our team is working diligently to complete the project ahead of schedule.

The jury delivered a unanimous verdict in the courtroom.

Are collective nouns singular or plural?

Collective nouns are usually treated as singular, even though they’re semantically plural. This means they’re generally used with singular verb forms (e.g., “is” instead of “are”), but the usage differs between US and UK English.

  • In UK English, both singular and plural are acceptable, depending on the context.
  • In US English, collective nouns are treated as singular, no matter the context.

UK English: Varies depending on context

In UK English, both forms are used. The plural form is commonly used when the emphasis is placed on individual group members acting independently, or when the noun looks like a plural noun (e.g., “Red Hot Chili Peppers”).

However, it’s good practice to be consistent about how you treat collective nouns, even in UK English. This means that you shouldn’t use a word like “band” as a singular noun in some sentences and plural in others.

Collective noun examples in UK English
The local orchestra are performing a beautiful symphony.

The committee are discussing the upcoming charity event.

The fleet of ships are setting sail for the distant horizon at dawn.

US English: Always singular

In US English, all collective verbs are treated as singular. Using a plural verb form with a collective noun is considered incorrect. In practice, people sometimes use a plural verb form, but this is not in line with most American style guides.

It is advised to use a singular verb form in formal or academic writing, even when the noun looks like a plural noun (e.g., a band name like “The Rolling Stones”).

Collective noun examples in US English
The pack of wolves is howling beneath the full moon.

The staff at the hospital is working tirelessly.

The choir is singing harmoniously.

Collective nouns for animals

Collective noun Type of animal
Brood Baby animals (e.g., chicks)
Colony Social animals that often collaborate (e.g., ants or beavers)
Flock Animals with a leader (e.g., sheep) or animals that move in a formation (e.g., some birds)
Gaggle Geese
Herd Animals kept by farmers (e.g., cows) or wild animals that gather in groups
Murder Crows
Murmuration Starlings
Pack Animals that hunt as a group, whether wild or trained (e.g., dogs or wolves)
Parliament Owls
Plague Locusts
Pod Dolphins
Shiver Sharks
Shrewdness Apes
Swarm Bees, flies, and other insects
Troop Baboons
Unkindness Ravens
Collective nouns for animals can also be used figuratively for humans, usually with a negative connotation. For example, you can refer to a group of people as a “herd” if you want to express that they mindlessly follow trends or leaders.

Examples of collective nouns

Animals People and things Proper nouns
brood (of chicks) array the American Psychological Association
flock (of sheep) army The Bee Gees
gaggle (of geese) assortment Chicago University Press
herd (of cows) band Foo Fighters
murder (of crows) bouquet Manchester United
murmuration (of starlings) company Microsoft
pack (of wolves) group the New York Jets
plague (of locusts) party QuillBot
pride (of lions) team the United States Congress

Frequently asked questions about collective nouns

What’s the difference between common and proper nouns?

A common noun is not capitalized, as it names a category of person, place, thing, or concept. Common nouns often require articles (e.g., “a”) or determiners (e.g., “many,” “his”).

In contrast, a proper noun is capitalized and names a specific person, place, thing, or concept. Most common nouns don’t require an article, but some require “the” (e.g., “the Great Lakes”).

Is family a collective noun?

Yes, family is a collective noun. It is grammatically singular, but it refers to a group of people who are related (e.g., “Your family is friendly”).

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Julia Merkus, MA

Julia has a bachelor in Dutch language and culture and two masters in Linguistics and Language and speech pathology. After a few years as an editor, researcher, and teacher, she now writes articles about her specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, methodology, and statistics.