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My former student, Stance, tweeted me to ask why we use words for groups of animals or people, such as a pod of dolphins instead of dolphins or a team of engineers instead of engineers. Such words, as you know, are collective nouns. (Update: I changed school of dolphins to pod of dolphins; the collective noun school refers more to fish, and dolphins are mammals. Thanks to my friend, Cris, for the reminder!)

A collective noun collects some individual elements and gathers them as one group or unit. Examples:

Collective noun corrected

Why use a collective noun? Because sometimes the individual elements act as one ensemble. When a group acts in unison, it is treated as one. When this group behaves in a similar fashion, it is treated as singular.

So we say:

2 Collective Noun

In the following examples, there seems to be a difference in the way the individual elements move:

3 Collective Noun

Is a collective noun always singular? Not always. More on this subject on the next post.

Photo credit: Ameisen-Bekämpfung

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4 thoughts on “Why use collective nouns?

  1. May I recommend the book “An Exaltation of Larks” by James Lipton? It is an entertaining and educational read.

  2. Oh, my favorite is a murder of crows. And a flight of dragons (do you remember that cartoon movie?) We’ve been also trying to come up with our own collective nouns for different groups. Like a chaos of kids, or a mess of kids. A reckoning of lies. A gossip of housewives. A faint of celebrities. :D

    • Ha ha, I like “a gossip of housewives.” :D My friend, Cris, reminded me that we should say “pod of dolphins” because they’re more mammal, than fish. :) She’s right! Will correct this post.

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