Agreement: Collective Nouns

May 21, 2021

Collective nouns name a group, so it can be difficult to tell whether to use a singular or plural verb. In American English, these nouns are typically singular, but sometimes they can be plural if you’re referring to the individuals in the group rather than the group as a whole.

When the group acts as a whole, use a singular verb.

My family is going to Germany for Christmas.
The whole family is acting as one group. They’re all going to Germany together at the same time.

When the members of the group act as individuals, use a plural verb.

My family usually buy their clothes at Jerry’s Fine Fashions.
The individual family members are acting separately. They all buy their own clothes at different times.

Hint: Pay attention to your pronouns, too. If you use a singular verb, use a singular pronoun; if you use a plural verb, use a plural pronoun. Let’s take another look at our second example above.

My family usually buy their clothes at Jerry’s Fine Fashions.

Notice how both buy and their are plural. It would be incorrect to say My family buy its clothes or My family buys their clothes