collective noun

noun Grammar.
a noun, as herd, jury, or clergy, that appears singular in formal shape but denotes a group of persons or objects.

Origin:
1510–20


Whether a collective noun, which is singular in form, is used with a singular or plural verb depends on whether the word is referring to the group as a unit or to its members as individuals. In American English, a collective noun naming an organization regarded as a unit is usually treated as singular: The corporation is holding its annual meeting. The team is having a winning season. The government has taken action. In British English, such nouns are commonly treated as plurals: The corporation are holding their annual meeting. The team are playing well. The government are in agreement. When a collective noun naming a group of persons is treated as singular, it is referred to by the relative pronoun that or which: His crew is one that (or which) works hard. When such a noun is treated as plural, the pronoun is who: His crew are specialists who volunteered for the project. In formal speech and writing, collective nouns are usually not treated as both singular and plural in the same sentence: The enemy is fortifying its (not their) position. The enemy are bringing up their heavy artillery.
When the collective nouns couple and pair refer to people, they are usually treated as plurals: The newly married couple have found a house near good transportation. The pair are busy furnishing their new home. The collective noun number, when preceded by a, is treated as a plural: A number of solutions were suggested. When preceded by the, it is treated as a singular: The number of solutions offered was astounding.
Other common collective nouns are class, crowd, flock, panel, committee, group, audience, staff, and family.
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
collective noun
 
n
a noun that is singular in form but that refers to a group of people or things
 
usage  Collective nouns are usually used with singular verbs: the family is on holiday; General Motors is mounting a big sales campaign. In British usage, however, plural verbs are sometimes employed in this context, esp when reference is being made to a collection of individual objects or people rather than to the group as a unit: the family are all on holiday. Care should be taken that the same collective noun is not treated as both singular and plural in the same sentence: the family is well and sends its best wishes or the family are all well and send their best wishes, but not the family is well and send their best wishes

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Example sentences
It is also called a collective noun, but it is used as a single unit.
There is no firm rule about the number of a verb governed by a singular collective noun.
But for her, war is merely a general term, a collective noun for so many individual stories.
He asked listeners to name themselves, to suggest a collective noun.
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