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Serenity Carr, Assistant Editor
Collective Nouns and Verb Agreement
Monday September 26th 2016
Question
Do collective nouns need a plural verb?  — Ajoy, India
Answer

A collective noun is a name for a group of people or things such as "family," "class," "pack," "bouquet," "pair," and "flock." Collective nouns usually take a singular verb, because they are singular in construction, but they sometimes take a plural verb.

Use a singular verb when the members of the group are acting together as a unit.

  • The family is driving across the country this summer.
  • The couple eats out once a month.
  • The herd usually stays together.
  • The jury has reached a decision.
  • A litter of kittens was born in the shelter.

 

Use a plural verb when the members of the group are acting as individuals.

  • The family are each doing a different chore.
  • The couple are taking separate cars to work today.
  • The jury were allowed to go home to their families each day.
  • A litter of kittens have been running around the shelter making messes.

 

The plural verbs in the second set of examples may sound odd to some native speakers. In cases such as those, when you are unsure of whether to use a singular or plural verb, you can add "members of" before the collective noun, and then use a plural verb because "members" is plural.

  • The members of the family are each doing a separate chore.
  • The members of the jury were allowed to go home to their families each day.

 

I hope this helps.

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