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:
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:
In the following examples, there seems to be a difference in the way the individual elements move:
Is a collective noun always singular? Not always. More on this subject on the next post.
Photo credit: Ameisen-Bekämpfung