Dear Teachers,

Are all the collective nouns used only for animate thing?
Original Post
Here's the definition of "collective noun" from WordNet:

  • WordNet: collective noun

    The noun has one meaning:

    Meaning #1: a noun that is singular in form but refers to a group of people or things.

    So, we see that a collective noun can refer to things; however, it is hard to come up with examples of inanimate things that can hold collective nouns.

    I think this should be our first game: Name a collective noun that is composed of inanimate things.
  • Good guess, Ismael.

    But, one of the characteristics of a collective noun is that it sometimes takes a plural verb. "Compound" always takes a singular verb.

    There can be a compound composed of people, and a chemical compound composed of different kinds of molecules. In both cases, though, the word "compound" takes a singular verb; it never takes a plural verb.

    The words family, committee, flock, government and others -- collective nouns, all -- can take plural verb in some conditions, and often do in British English.

    Name a collective noun that is composed of inanimate things.

    Izzy, with your permission, I would like to resurrect this topic to clarify something on collective nouns.

    Rachel, what about these? Are they not collective nouns?

    A punnet of strawberries,
    A clutch of eggs,
    A string of pearls,
    A bunch of grapes, etc, etc.

    Thank you.
    I think these nouns -- punnet, clutch, and string -- are units of measure.

    "Bunch," when used for a bunch of people, might be considered a collective noun. We might say, "A bunch of people are coming over tonight."

    However, when "bunch" refers to things, like a bunch of bananas or a bunch of grapes, the verb is almost always singular. In the New York Times Archives, I found many examples of "a bunch of" + a plural count noun + a singular verb (a bunch of bananas / flowers / grapes was), but only one with "were." Here it is:

  • A bunch of bananas were wrapped in plastic foam. Meats were carefully packaged, and milk was ice cold. By and large, the quality was unparalleled. ...

    So, I think in this case, the word "bunch" can be considered a collective noun used with something inanimate. Gilbert, you have come in first with a correct answer to this puzzle.
  • Rachel,

    Thank you for declaring me the winner. Er... so when do I get my cheque for the $1 miilion first-prize jackpot...?

    At face value, these words like punnet, clutch, etc., seem to function so much like collective nouns...

    So, Rachel, does it mean that if it can take on a plural verb, then it is by definition, a collective noun?

    Yes, you can.

    What you can't say is this:

    The compound have forty people living there.

    We have to say:

  • The compound has forty people living there.

    "Compound" is a singular count noun, so you can, of course, have four compounds.

    But, since one of the requirements of a collective noun is that sometimes it can appear with a plural verb, "compound" does not fit. We can't say, "The compound are..."
  • Dear Rachel,

    can we say:

    The family have.....
    The family has...

    The family is...
    The family are...

    The family consistS of...
    The family consist of...

    Am I right?

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