A  collective noun is a noun that represents a collection of individuals, usually people, such as:

  • a¬†team ¬†(for example: eleven football players)
  • a¬†family ¬†(for example: mother, father and two children)
  • a¬†crew ¬†(for example: 100 sailors)

Here are some more collective noun examples. As you see, collective nouns can consist of a few people or tens, hundreds or thousands of people:

  • committee, jury, senate, company, audience, police,¬†army
Most  collective nouns are groups of people, but some refer to animals or objects, for example:
  • animals: a herd of cows, a flock of sheep
  • objects: a fleet of ships, a convoy of trucks

Proper Nouns as Collective Nouns

Many collective nouns are common nouns, but they can also be proper nouns when they are the name of a company or other organisation with more than one person, for example Microsoft . Here are some more examples of collective nouns that are proper nouns:

  • Sony, Apple, CNN, the BBC, the United Nations, WHO, Thai Air, Interpol, the FBI, Cambridge University, Manchester United

Is a Collective Noun Singular or Plural?

Each of the collective nouns above is a single "thing". But it consists of more than one individual. So the question arises: is a collective noun singular or plural?

To which the answer is: it depends. A collective noun can be singular OR plural, depending on how you see the individuals in the group.

If you see the individuals acting together , as a whole, then you probably treat the collective noun as singular  (with singular verbs and singular pronouns), for example:

  • The¬†jury¬†has¬†delivered¬†its ¬†conclusion to the judge.

If you see the individuals acting individually , then you probably treat the collective noun as plural  (with plural verbs and plural pronouns), for example:

  • The¬†jury¬†have ¬†not reached a conclusion because¬†they¬†are ¬†still arguing among¬†themselves.

British and American Differences

Note that as a general rule:

  • British English tends to treat collective nouns as¬†plural
  • American English tends to treat them as¬†singular

So in the example above, American English speakers might use a singular verb with jury  and rephrase the rest of the sentence to avoid a logical absurdity:

  • The¬†jury¬†has ¬†not reached a conclusion because¬†its members¬†are ¬†still arguing among¬†themselves.

However, even in American English, it is acceptable to use a plural verb if you really wish to emphasize the individuality of the collective noun members.

  • The San Francisco¬†crowd were their¬†usual individualistic selves.

In American English it is also possible to use a plural pronoun with a singular verb, as in:

  • The family next door¬†is ¬†very quiet. We never hear¬†them.
In all varieties of English, the collective noun police  is always treated as plural:
  • The¬† police are¬†coming.
  • The¬† police were¬†the first on the scene.
  • The¬† police have¬†issued¬†their¬†report.

A Collective Noun Can Itself Be Singular and Plural

In most cases a collective noun can itself be plural. In other words, you can have more than one collective noun. For example, in a game of football there are TWO teams. In a street there are many families. In such cases, a plural verb is automatically used, as in these examples:

  • The many ships'¬†crews ¬†in port at the time¬†were ¬†constantly fighting.
  • The two¬†companies have¬†been negotiating for over a week.

Finally, here are some more example sentences...

collective noun treated as singularcollective noun treated as plural
The club was  founded in 2003.The club are  currently displaying their  best photos.
Does  Sony make mobile phones?Do  Sony plan to make cars?
The board of directors uses  this room for its meetings.The board of directors are  eating sandwiches for their lunch.
The family next door is  very quiet. We never hear them.*My family are  always arguing. The neighbours often hear us.
The school reopens  in September.The school are  preparing for their  winter marathon.
CNN does  like to blow its  own trumpet.CNN do  like to blow their  own trumpet.

*Typically American English usage with a mixture of singular verb and plural pronoun.

sources : Original Link