What are collective nouns?

What are collective nouns?

by Leona Quigley

Updated November 10, 2022

There are four kinds of nouns in English: common nouns (dog, table), proper nouns (Raphael, France), abstract nouns (beauty, courage) and, our topic of the day, collective nouns (team, crowd).

A loose definition of a collective noun is a name given to a grouping of people, animals or things so that they can be referred to collectively. For instance, when you talk about a group of people, the word ‘group’ is a collective noun. If the people you are talking about happen to be related you would call them a “family”..  

While collective nouns are not hard to understand as grammar terms go, what makes them a little bit tricky is that a collective noun can be very versatile or highly specific. So, for instance, a word like “pack” can refer to a group of wolves or dogs, a stack of playing cards, a collection of documents or occasionally a group of thieves. Meanwhile, a word like “choir” refers only to a group of singers. 

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Collective nouns for people

The following are some of the most frequently used collective nouns for groupings of people, with some examples of how to use them:

  • Crowd of people (grouped together in an area, often in a disorganized manner, e.g. at a concert or protest).
  • Gang of people who hang out or operate together.  This collective noun can be positive such as “meet my gang of friends” or negative a “gang of hooligans causing trouble”
  • Staff of personnel
  • Class of pupils
  • Team of sports players or people working together
  • Crew of people working on a ship or plane
  • Band of musicians
  • Board of directors
  • Troupe of dancers
  • Pack of thieves
  • Squadron of pilots / police officers

Collective nouns for animals

Here are some common collective nouns for animals, together with some examples of how they are used:

  • Herd of cattle, or other grazing herbivores with hooves such as cows, horses, donkeys, deer, elephants, antelope, as well as some marine mammals like seals, porpoises and sea horses
  • Flock of birds, sheep or goats
  • Pack of wolves
  • Litter of piglets, kittens, puppies or other baby animals born together.
  • Shoal of fish
  • Pod of dolphins /whales
  • School of dolphins/whales
  • Swarm of insects
  • Colony of ants
  • Team of horses (ie when horses are grouped together to pull a carriage or farm machinery)
  • Pride of lions
  • Murder of crows 

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Collective nouns for things

And finally here are some commonly used collective nouns for groupings of things with some examples of how they are used:

  • Bunch of grapes/flowers/keys. Bunch is also occasionally used to refer to a group of people, for instance in the popular 1970s sitcom, The Brady Bunch, which refers to the Brady family.
  • Bouquet of flowers
  • Series of TV show episodes
  • Fleet of ships
  • Forest of trees
  • Pack of cards
  • Range of mountains
  • Galaxy of stars

All together now

Now that you know your herds from your hordes and your crowds from your crews, there is no shortage of other rare collective nouns to learn — many that even native English speakers don’t know. While you don’t really have to know the more specific collective nouns such as “a murder of crows”, a “shiver of sharks” or a “kaleidoscope of butterflies,” they’re fun to learn and will occasionally pop up in books and news!

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Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.

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