A collective noun refers to a type of noun that encompasses “a whole group as a single entity” as well as the members of that group. It is considered singular in form.
Collective nouns differ from mass nouns (water, electricity, happiness, referring to an indefinitely divisible substance or abstract notion) in that mass nouns nearly never take indefinite articles (a/an; we would almost never say *a happiness) or generally don’t have plural forms.
So, do I use a singular or plural verb with a collective noun?
Generally, in American English, collective nouns take singular verbs, e.g., The government is intervening in the crisis.
In British English, however, collective nouns are often treated as plural in form and so take plural verbs, e.g., The government are intervening in the crisis.
Nevertheless, the use of a singular or plural verb can depend on the context of the sentence.
If you are referring to the whole group as a single entity, then the singular verb is best.
For instance: The school board has called a special session or the faculty eats the donuts. When a group noun is used with a singular determiner (a/an, each, every, this, that, etc.), singular verbs and pronouns are common, like in this sentence: The team is away this weekend; it has a good chance of winning.
There are other contexts where the plural verb is more natural: My family are always fighting among themselves. When the individuals in the collection or group receive the emphasis, a plural verb (and pronoun) works well.
Are there any other useful guidelines?
The collective noun number, when preceded by a, takes a plural verb: There are a number of reasons why I didn’t go. When preceded by the, number takes a singular verb: The number of dogs in the park was incredible.Couple and pair, when referring to people, favor a plural verb. For instance: The new couple showed off their fabulous wedding pictures.
What are some other common collective nouns?
Here’s a handy shortlist for your quick reference: