Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Quickie Post: Collective Nouns and Verb Agreement

Collective nouns name an entire group. You use them to write about the whole and to say things that apply to each of the members individually. When you apply a collective noun to a group, you treat it as singular even though it refers to any number of people.

“The Navajo people has a rich and complicated history.” Here, “people” refers to the entire tribe described by the adjective “Navajo”. Thus it operates as a collective noun.

“An army marches on its (collective) stomach.” Each soldier has one and each must be fed or the group as a whole will not act (or hold together, for that matter). If the object is not common to every member of the group then you would have to specify which members your were writing about. You end up with a specific, if undefined, number of people.

Be aware of the difference between collective nouns like army or team or media and specific groups like the Green Berets, the Chicago Bears, and reporters. Keep your collective nouns singular and your favorite sports team can take care of themselves.