Are Collective Nouns Singular or Plural?

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
Most writers (especially in the US) treat collective nouns (e.g., team, group, company) as singular, and unless you have a good reason not to, you should treat your collective noun as singular too.

However, 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. For example:
  • The team is showing signs of frustration.
  • (Sometimes, it feels wrong to treat a collective noun as singular because the context puts the focus on the individuals within the team.)
  • The team are showing signs of frustration.
  • (Using a plural verb is perfectly grammatical, but it might irk some of your readers.)
  • The members of the team are showing signs of frustration.
  • (Using "members of" forces a plural verb, improves readability, and placates those who believe that collective nouns must always be singular.)
collective noun singular or plural

Collective Noun Singular or Plural?

A collective noun is the word used to represent a group of people, animals, or things. "Group," "team," and "crowd" are examples of collective nouns. You should match your collective noun with a singular verb (e.g., the group is, the team believes, the crowd was moving) unless the context of your sentence makes a singular verb seem awkward or wrong. Therefore, a collective noun can be singular or plural depending on the sense of the sentence. Look at this example:
  • The shoal was moving north.
  • (Here, the shoal is considered as a single unit; therefore, "shoal" is singular.)
However, on occasion, the context means that singular verb feels wrong:
  • The shoal were darting in all directions.
  • (In this example, "shoal" is treated as plural because the context puts the focus on the individuals within the group.)

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.
  • (With this example, the writer must decided whether to treat "jury" as singular or plural.)
  • The members of the jury are to convene at 4 o'clock.
  • (With "the members" added, no decision is required – the verb must be 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
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.

Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Unusual plurals What are nouns? The different types of nouns Forming plurals Forming plurals of compound nouns Forming plurals (table) Singular or plural verbs after prepositional phrases (e.g. a box of tapes)