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collective noun - singular or plural?

The Quick Answer
A collective noun can be considered as either singular or plural depending on the sense of the sentence. If it's too hard to make a decision on singular or plural, precede your collective noun with words like members of…, forcing you to go plural.

Collective Noun Singular or Plural?

A collective noun can be singular or plural depending on the sense of the sentence. In the first example below, the shoal is considered as one unit. Therefore, shoal is considered singular. However, in the second example, the shoal is considered as lots of individuals, and shoal is considered plural.

  • The shoal was moving north.
  • (singular – considered as one unit)
  • The shoal were darting in all directions.
  • (plural – considered as individuals)
  • As far as I am concerned, Marylebone Cricket Club still has nineteenth-century values and standards.

Add a Word to Avoid the Issue

To simplify matters, a word for the individuals within the group can be introduced. In the first example below, it is necessary to decide whether the collective noun jury should be singular or plural. However, by adding members of, you are forced to use a plural verb.

  • The jury is/are to convene at 4 o'clock. 
  • (A decision is required: Is jury singular or plural?)
  • The members of the jury are to convene at 4 o'clock.
  • (no decision required – the word members is plural)

What is a Collective Noun?

A collective noun is a word that represents a group. For example:
  • committee
  • board
  • team
  • jury
  • family
  • choir
  • group
Like those above, most collective nouns are mundane words. A collective noun is a type of common noun.

Terms of Venery

Words used to describe a specific group of things (usually animals) are called terms of venery. They are also collective nouns. Examples:
  • colony of ants
  • hive of bees
  • school of dolphins
  • parliament of owls
  • cloud of bats
  • a mob of kangaroos

See the lesson Types of Nouns.