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Collective nouns denote a number or collection of similar indi­viduals or things regarded as a single unit.

Collective nouns fall into the following groups:

1. nouns used only in the singular and denoting a number of things collected together and regarded as a single object: foliage, machinery.

It was not restful, that greenfoliage. (London)

Machinery new to the industry in Australia was introduced for

preparing land. (Agricultural Gazette)

2. nouns which are singular in form though plural in meaning: police, poultry, cattle, people, gentry. They are usually called nouns of

1 On the use of articles with class nouns see Chapter II, § 2, 3.


multitude. When the subject of the sentence is a noun of multitude the verb used as predicate is in the plural:

I had no idea thepolice were so devilishly prudent. (Shaw) Unlesscattle are in good condition in calving, milk production will never reach a high level. (Agricultural Gazette) The weather was warm and thepeople were sitting at their doors. (Dickens)

(c) nouns that may be both singular and plural: family, crowd, government, staff\ team, audience, committee, fleet, nation.

A smallcrowd is lined up to see the guests arrive. (Shaw)

A wholecrowd of us are going to the ball.

There are three nouns ending in – s that can also be singular or plural:

means a means of traffic many means of traffic

series a television series two television series

species a species of bird 200 species of bird

3. Nouns of material denote material: iron, gold, paper, tea, water.

They are uncountables and are generally used without any article.1

There was a scent ofhoney from the lime-trees in flower. (Galsworthy)

There wascoffee still in the urn. (Wells)

Nouns of material are used in the plural to denote different sorts of a given material.

... that his senior counted upon him in this enterprise, and had consigned a quantity of selectwines to him... (Thackeray)

Nouns of material may turn into class nouns (thus becoming countables) when they come to express an individual object of definite shape.


To the left were clean panes ofglass. (Ch. Bronte)

"He came in here," said the waiter looking at the light through the tumbler, "ordered aglass of this ale." (Dickens)

But the person in theglass made a face at her, and Miss Moss went out. (Mansfield)


1 On the use of articles with nouns of material see Chapter II, § 5, 6, 7.


4.Abstract nouns denote some quality, state, action or idea: kind­ness, sadness, fight. They are usually uncountables, though some of them may be countables (e. g. idea, hour)}

Therefore when the youngsters saw that mother looked neither frightened nor offended, they gathered newcourage. (Dodge) Accustomed to John Reed's abuse — I never had anidea of replying to it. (Ch. Bronte) It's these people with fixedideas. (Galsworthy)

Abstract nouns may change their meaning and become class nouns. This change is marked by the use of the article and of the plural number:

beauty a beauty beauties

a sight sight sights


He was responsive tobeauty and here was cause to respond.


She was abeauty. (Dickens)

... but she isn't one of those horrid regularbeauties. (Aldington)

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