Collective Nouns

by Craig Shrives

What Are Collective Nouns? (with Examples)

A collective noun is the word used to represent a group of people, animals, or things. In the infographic below, the collective nouns are shown in yellow.
collective nouns examples

Examples of Collective Nouns

Here are some examples of collective nouns:
  • Flock
  • Crowd
  • Committee
  • Choir
  • Group
  • Team

Click on the Two Collective Nouns
(Interactive Game)

More Examples of Collective Nouns

There are lots of collective nouns. Below are some examples of the most common ones for people, animals, and things.

Common Collective Nouns Used for People

Here are some examples of common collective nouns used for people:
  • A band of musicians
  • A board of directors
  • A choir of singers
  • A class of students
  • A crowd of people
  • A gang of thieves
  • A pack of thieves
  • A panel of experts
  • A team of players
  • A troupe of dancers

Common Collective Nouns Used for Animals

Here are some examples of common collective nouns used for animals:
  • An army of ants
  • A flock of birds
  • A flock of sheep
  • A herd of deer
  • A hive of bees
  • A litter of puppies
  • A murder of crows
  • A pack of hounds
  • A pack of wolves
  • A school of fish
  • A swarm of locusts
  • A team of horses
  • A pride of lions
Of interest, collective nouns that describe a specific group of animals are called "terms of venery."

Common Collective Nouns Used for Things

Here are some examples of common collective nouns used for things:
  • A bouquet of flowers
  • A bunch of flowers
  • A fleet of ships
  • A forest of trees
  • A galaxy of stars
  • A pack of cards
  • A pack of lies
  • A pair of shoes
  • A range of mountains
  • A wad of notes
Here is a 4-minute video summarizing this lesson about collective nouns.


Versatile Collective Nouns

Some collective nouns are quite versatile.
  • a pack of thieves
  • a pack of wolves
  • a pack of cards
  • a pack of lies
By far the most common question about collective nouns is whether to treat them as singular or plural. In other words, should you write "the group is" or "the group are"? Well, both can be right. You should treat a collective noun (shaded in the examples below) as singular or plural depending on the sense of your sentence.
  • The shoal was moving north.
  • The shoal were darting in all directions.
  • (In the first sentence, the shoal is considered as one unit. Therefore, "shoal" is treated as singular. However, in the second example, the shoal is considered as lots of individuals, and "shoal" is treated as plural.)
  • The audience is happy.
  • The audience are all wearing comedy wigs.
  • (In the first sentence "audience" is singular. In the second, it's plural.)
  • There is always an incredible crowd that follows me. In Rome, even the men kiss me. (Boxer Muhammad Ali)
  • I have played some of my best tennis away from home, but it can be tough when the crowd are spitting on you. (Australian tennis player Lleyton Hewitt)
  • (In the first sentence, "crowd" is singular. In the second, it's plural. Lleyton Hewitt would have instinctively chosen "crowd are" over "crowd is" because not all the individuals in the crowd would have been spitting at him, compelling him to think of the crowd as lots of individuals.)
As a general rule, you should treat a collective noun as singular unless you have a good reason for treating it as plural. If it feels a little uncomfortable treating a collective noun as singular or plural, add a term like "members of" to force a plural term.
  • The members of the audience are happy.
  • The members of the audience are all wearing comedy wigs.
  • (There is no longer a decision to make. The phrase "members of the audience" is plural.)
Once you've decided whether your collective noun is singular or plural, stay consistent throughout your sentence.
  • The group is happy with their performance. [not technically wrong but a bit scruffy]
  • (is = singular / their = plural)
  • The group is happy with its performance. [much tidier]
  • (is = singular / its = singular)
While some collective nouns (e.g., "pack," "group") can be used with different things, most can't. For example, you probably shouldn't say:
  • a bouquet of wolves
  • a swarm of lions
  • a litter of ships
Hang on. Let's look at those again. The term "a swarm of lions" conjures an image of lots of lions in a frenzy, which would be an effective and interesting way to describe that situation. Therefore, deliberately using the wrong collective noun could add a useful connotation. For example:
  • a pack of ships
  • (This gives the idea of ships hunting like wolves or thieves. It brings pirates to mind.)
  • a forest of soldiers
  • (This gives the idea of thousands of stationary soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder.)
  • A flock of men is more easily driven than a single one. (Economist Richard Whately)

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See Also

Nouns for kids 100+ common collective nouns 300 Collective Nouns for Animals Take a test on collective nouns What are nouns? The different types of nouns What are pronouns? The different types of pronouns Abstract nouns Compound nouns Concrete nouns Non-countable nouns (mass nouns) Gender-specific nouns Verbal nouns Gerunds Noun clauses Noun phrases

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