Friday 29 April 2016

The great collective noun

I thought I'd catch up with the blog with a look at the great and weird collective noun.

Collective nouns are single entities that are formed by one or more person, animal or thing. You cannot have a troupe, family or team of one person. You need at least two people to form a collective

Singular collective nouns 

Depending on the context, collective nouns can be both plural and singular. The fact that this double categorization exists can cause grammatical agreement errors in sentences. To avoid grammatical agreement errors, the correct verbs and pronouns must be used with collective nouns to form a correct sentence.

When the people in a group that form a collective noun are doing something in unison with the other members of the group, a collective noun becomes singular and requires the use of singular pronouns and verbs. The following examples all show the use of singular verbs and pronouns, as all the members of the collective noun group are doing the same thing in unison.

Each afternoon after school, the football team follows its coach onto the school pitch for practice.
The collective noun ‘team’ is singular and is combined with the singular verb ‘follows’ and the singular pronoun ‘its’. All the members of the football team act as one and do the same activity at the same time and in the same place.

This morning, Mr Evan’s class takes its second multiple choice chemistry exam.
The collective noun ‘class’ is singular and is combined with the singular verb ‘takes’ and the singular pronoun ‘its’. All the students of the class will take the chemistry exam at the same time.

The jury agrees that the prosecution’s case was not strong enough to convict the accused, so its verdict is not guilty.

The collective noun ‘jury’ is singular and is correctly followed by the singular verb ‘agrees’ and the singular pronoun ‘its’. All the members of the jury have come to the same conclusion. 

Plural collective nouns

A collective noun can be plural when the members of the group are doing different things. There can be one group of people or things, but each member is performing their own activity so the collective noun is plural. When this is the case, the collective noun requires the use of plural pronouns and verbs to be grammatically correct. The following examples show members of collective nouns that are not doing actions in unison.

After the fast paced football match under the very hot sun, the team shower, change into their normal clothes and head to their homes.

The collective noun ‘team’ is plural this time and is followed by the plural verbs ‘shower, change and head’. The plural pronoun ‘their’ is also used. The members of the football team get dressed into their individual normal clothes and leave in separate directions to go to their individual homes.
After completing the chemistry exam, the class start working on their research projects on scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century.

The collective noun ‘class’ is plural as the members of the class start projects at different times, on different scientific breakthroughs and at different times. The plural verb ‘start’ and the plural pronoun ‘their’ are used.

The jury disagree over the strength of the evidence and have told the judge that they are unable to come to a unanimous verdict. 

The collective noun ‘jury’ is plural as the members of the jury are not in agreement. The plural verbs ‘disagree’ and ‘have told’ are used along with the plural pronoun ‘they’. 

Solutions to grammatical agreement errors

If you are struggling to decide whether a collective noun is plural or singular, you can change the composition of the sentence to avoid grammatical agreement errors.

A simple solution is to add the word ‘members’ after the use of a collective noun. 

The family members
The team members
The board members

Another solution is to replace the collective noun with another word entirely.

Instead of ‘senate’ use ‘senators’
Instead of ‘team’ use ‘players’
Instead of ‘class’ use ‘students’

Replacing the problematic collective noun allows you to use plural verbs and pronouns, without creating any grammatical agreement errors or contradictions.

Now never say that I don't teach you anything!