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A Cohesive Guide On Collective Nouns

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The English language is marvelous from many perspectives. It is amazingly flexible, adaptive, expressive, and laconic. The Latin and Germanic roots of the modern English language are the reasons behind its versatility & expressiveness.

Nouns in the English language are syntactical terms that refer to specific entities such as objects, persons, actions, events, qualities and the like. From a linguistic perspective, nouns & noun phrases have no inherent semantic properties and act as referring expressions. They are the objects of a verb or preposition and the primary syntax in the subject of a sentence clause.

Collective nouns are particular iterations of nouns or noun phrases that act as the referring expressions to a collection of entities as a whole. And, this article takes a closer look at them.

What Are Collective Nouns? And How To Use Them?

As briefly stated, collective nouns are phrases that refer to the collections or a multitude of entities. Some common examples of collective nouns are group, herd, flock, array, team, assortment, etc. They help us denote and define collections as a single set or entity, making the syntax & semantics of a sentence much more engaging, effective & efficient.

  • Like regular nouns, we encounter & use collective nouns every day, sometimes without even realizing it. And, just like them, collective nouns are words naming people, animals, places, things, events, etc. However, their collective nature gives them a class of their own.  

In their truest sense, collective nouns allow us to denote or refer to multiple entities, with specific commonalities, as a singular collection.

  • One of the most common questions surrounding collective nouns is whether to treat them as singular or plural. Subject-verb disagreements are one common error writers make while using collective nouns.

For example, should we write ‘the group is conveningor ‘the group is convening’?

The context, metonymy & semantic structure (meaningful organization) of a sentence dictates the treatment of a collective noun to a vast extent.

  • The context, the purpose and the organization of the sentence is THE primary factor that controls the usage of a collective noun. In most cases, collective nouns are treated as singular and only under certain specific circumstances considered plural.

Consider the following two sentences: ‘The audience is elated with the performance.’  & ‘The audience are all professional theatre actors.’

The first sentence treats ‘audience’ singularly to denote a common appreciation permeating through the whole crowd. The usage in the second sentence signifies plurality as it attempts to highlight the professional qualifications of each member of the audience.

  • A diverse array of collective nouns is used in the English language. Specific noun terms match with particular entities and seem out of place when paired otherwise.  

In some cases, deliberate usage of collective nouns, unlike conventional ones, makes way for good connotations. For example, collective noun phrases such as a flock of men or an army of writers denote many individuals involved in a situation.

From a neurological standpoint, different words stir the language processing center of our brain differently. And, that’s why the collective noun phrase a group of writers does not have the same impression on reader’s minds as an army of writers. Writers tend to use this semantic effect to spice up their content.

  • The confusion surrounding the treatment of collective nouns & the resultant subject-verb disagreement often stems from the mental image of multiples that we harbor in our minds.

In the next section, we analyze some prominent examples of collective nouns to better shed light on their usage.

Some Excellent Collective Noun Examples & Their Analyses

Let’s take a look at some sentences and their treatment of collective nouns.

E.g.1: The choir is performing A German Requiem tonight.

The collective noun choir denotes a collective of singers performing in sync to deliver a beautiful rendition of a song.

E.g.2: The board of directors are at an impasse regarding the overhaul of the delivery system.

The collective noun board has been treated in a plural fashion in this sentence. The reason behind so is that the sentence aims to portray the difference of opinions amongst each board member.

E.g. 3: Walmart is the world’s leading retail company and owned by the world’s wealthiest family, the Waltons.

Walmart is a collective proper noun in this sentence. The noun is used to denote the activities, decisions, actions and strategies of a large collective of people.

Some collective nouns, however, are better referred to in the plural.

E.g. 4: England is touring India currently as part of a test series. — the collective noun team refers to all the team members of the England cricket team.

Apart from subject-verb disagreement, there is often confusion surrounding verb-pronoun agreement while using collective nouns. Singular collective nouns require singular pronouns, while plural nouns require plural pronouns.

Some Illustrated Examples of Collective Nouns

Before we round up this content, here are some tips for accurately identifying collective nouns in a sentence.

Tips To Understand Collective Nouns Better

Tip 1: If the word denotes anything in the multiple or if you intend to refer to something in the plural, collective nouns will come into play.

Tip2: Collective nouns are generally considered singular unless specifically referred to in the plural.

Tip 3: Ensuring correct pronoun agreement is similar to ensuring suitable verb agreement. Carefully go through the sentences and understand their context & meaning for accurate analysis.

Tip 4: British English tends to treat collective nouns in the plural, while American English usually treats them singularly.

And that finally brings us to the end of this article. Use it as a quick reference guide for delivering flawless content. But, if you require some more grammatical assistance or need expert guidance for your assignments, then is ready at your service.

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Jack Williams

I am Jack Williams, a Biochemist by profession. However, I developed a flair for writing while working on my Bio dissertations at university. So, I decided to take his passion to another level by stepping into the field of English essay writing. Ever since I have not only been learning the essentials of English writing but also been sharing my learning with students. My blog posts are intended to help not only students learn the technicalities of essay writing but also enable them to face related changes head-on. When I am not researching in my lab or sharing my valuable learning, you can find me playing soccer with my buddies or painting something that touched my heart and inspired me. 

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