English is a complex language, especially if you’re learning it as a second or third language. On top of memorizing a long list of grammar rules, communicators in the English language must remember how to make a noun plural. In many languages, this is a straightforward process—not so in English.
So, when should a noun be a plural noun or a collective noun? And what are the key differences between collective nouns vs plural nouns?
This grammar guide explains what is a collective noun and plural noun, explores how to apply the correct verb form and addresses the main distinctions between collective nouns vs plural nouns.
What is a Collective Noun?
A collective noun is a word that represents a group of people, animals or objects. Government, audience, public, herd—all of these collective nouns describe a group as a united whole.
Example of collective nouns (people)
- A panel of experts
- A class of students
- A team of players
Example of collective nouns (animals)
- A school of fish
- A pride of lions
- A pack of wolves
Examples of collective nouns (objects)
- A pair of shoes
- A bouquet of flowers
- A pack of cards
There are hundreds of ways to apply collective nouns to your sentences. Check out this comprehensive list of collective noun examples.
A collective noun often applies to a specific kind of group and cannot be considered as a synonym for another collective noun. In other words, it’s important to know which collective noun applies to a specific group within the context of your sentence.
|A choir of directors||A board of directors|
|A murder of lions||A pride of lions|
|A pack of flowers||A bouquet of flowers|
A collective noun is singular in form, so it often takes the singular verb, especially when referring to the group as a single unit:
- The choir is ready to sing a beautiful aria for us.
- A gang of elk is running down that mountain.
- The forest is on fire.
However, a collective noun can take on the plural verb, particularly when referencing the members of each group as individuals within a collective whole. This is more common in British English than American English:
- The crowd are heckling tonight’s comedian rather harshly.
- This army of ants are biting me!
- My pack of chocolate bars are melting in this heat.
In the examples above, only some within the collective whole are taking the action, therefore are referenced with a plural verb as done for plural nouns. Some people within the crowd were heckling. Some of the ants within the army were biting. Some of the chocolate bars within the pack were melting.
While technically correct, this can be rather confusing. It’s highly recommended to rephrase your sentence so that it makes more contextual sense. For example, “some members of the crowd are heckling tonight’s comedian rather harshly” makes more sense than “the crowd are heckling tonight’s comedian rather harshly.”
So, does a collective noun require a singular or plural verb? When in doubt, apply the singular verb to a collective noun, as the singular verb is the correct verb form more times than not.
What is a Plural Noun?
A plural noun is a word that references more than one of that particular noun.
- Women (more than one woman)
- Mice (more than one mouse)
- Saxophones (more than one saxophone)
- Counties (more than one county)
Making a singular noun into a plural noun depends on the spelling of that particular noun.
For regular nouns, add an -s at the end of the word to make it a plural noun:
For singular nouns ending with -s, -ss, -sh, -ch, -x or -z, add -es to the end of the word to make it a plural noun:
Some singular nouns ending with -s or -z require a double -s or -z prior to adding -es to make it a plural noun:
For singular nouns ending with -f or -fe, change the -f to -ve before adding the -s to make it a plural noun:
Except, of course, for these exceptions:
For singular nouns ending with -y before a consonant, change the -y to -ies to make it a plural noun:
For singular nouns ending with -y before a vowel, simply add an -s at the end to make it a plural noun:
For singular nouns ending with -o, add -es to make it plural:
Except, of course, for these exceptions:
For singular nouns ending with -us, change the -us to an -i to make it a plural noun:
For singular nouns ending with -is, change the -is to -es to make it a plural noun:
For singular nouns ending with -on, change the -on to -a to make it a plural noun:
And some singular nouns keep the same spelling, even when referenced as a plural noun:
Then there are irregular nouns that don’t follow any rules at all in pluralizing:
- Child ➔ children
- Foot ➔ feet
- Goose ➔ geese
- Man ➔ men
- Woman ➔ women
- Mouse ➔ mice
- Person ➔ people
- Tooth ➔ teeth
So, does a plural noun require a singular or plural verb? A plural noun always requires a plural verb, no matter its spelling or if it is a regular or irregular noun.
- Several women are eager to join our bowling league.
- Mice are scampering around our attic!
- Saxophones are selling for a great price at his music store.
- Three counties are under a tornado warning.
Collective Nouns vs Plural Nouns
That’s a lot of information to take in! So, what are the key differences between collective nouns vs plural nouns?
A collective noun is a word in singular form that represents a group of people, animals or objects. A plural noun is a word in plural form that represents more than one of that specific noun.
A collective noun can be paired with both a singular or plural verb (with the singular verb being the most recommended), while a plural noun is always paired with a plural verb.