grammarNOW! Tip of the Week: agreement with collective nouns

Words that refer to a group of people or objects but are singular in form are called collective nouns.

Examples: army, audience, choir, committee, team, mob, number

Verbs and pronouns used with collective nouns are either singular or plural, depending upon the meaning of the group word. If you consider the noun a unit, then use a singular verb and relative pronoun:

The team wants to win its division.
The committee is made up of department heads.
The noun in both sentences is considered a single unit, so the verb in each case is singular, and the pronoun in the first sentence is singular as well.

If you consider the collective noun a group of individuals, use a plural verb and plural pronouns:

The committee are arguing among themselves.
Both the verb and pronoun are plural, because the committee is viewed as a group of individuals, not a unit.

The collective noun “number” may be singular or plural. When it is considered arithmetical (you can count it, 1-2-3…), it is usually singular:

The number of students assigned to the new high school is higher than expected.
This number of students can be counted.
A number of students have already chosen their classes for the new semester.
This “number” is a concept, typically referring to a relatively large group.

If the noun following “number” is also collective, follow the guidelines above:

The number of people signed up for the reunion is growing daily.
A number of people are in disagreement with the proposed regulations.

grammarNOW! says:

I’ve compiled a few online lists of collective nouns for your pleasure and edification:
http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/a-compiled-list-of-collective-nouns
http://users.tinyonline.co.uk/gswithenbank/collnoun.htm
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/grammar/partsofspeech/nouns/collective/
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary_of_collective_nouns_by_collective_term
http://indiatoday.intoday.in/education/story/collective-nouns/1/579238.html

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