A noun that denotes a collection of individuals regarded as a unit.
Usage Note: In American usage, a collective noun takes a singular verb when it refers to the collection considered as a whole, as in The family was united on this question. The enemy is suing for peace. It takes a plural verb when it refers to the members of the group considered as individuals, as in My family are always fighting among themselves. The enemy were showing up in groups of three or four to turn in their weapons. In British usage, however, collective nouns are more often treated as plurals: The government have not announced a new policy. The team are playing in the test matches next week. A collective noun should not be treated as both singular and plural in the same construction; thus The family is determined to press its (not their) claim. Among the common collective nouns are committee, clergy, company, enemy, group, family, flock, public, and team. Note that collective nouns always refer to people or living creatures. Similar inanimate nouns, such as furniture and luggage, differ in that they cannot be counted individually. It is ungrammatical to say a furniture or a luggage. These nouns are called mass nouns or noncount nouns, and they always take a singular verb. See Usage Note at group.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.
American Heritage Dictionary Products
The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
The American Heritage Roget's Thesaurus
Curious George's Dictionary
The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary
The American Heritage Desk Dictionary + Thesaurus
The American Heritage Science Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms
The American Heritage Student Dictionary
The American Heritage Essential Student Thesaurus