Collective nouns are nouns which stand for a group or collection of people or things. They include words such as audience, committee, police, crew, family, government, group, and team.
In American English, most collective nouns are treated as singular, with a singular verb:
√ The whole family was at the table.
√ The government is doing a good job.
√ He prefers an audience that arrives without expectations.
In British English, most collective nouns can be treated as singular or plural:
The whole family was at the table. [singular collective noun; singular verb]
The whole family were at the table. [plural collective noun; plural verb]
The government is doing a good job. [singular collective noun; singular verb]
The government are doing a good job. [plural collective noun; plural verb]
There are a few collective nouns (in both British and American English) that are always used with a plural verb, the most common of which are police and people:
√ She’s happy with the way the police have handled the case.
X She’s happy with the way the police has handled the case.
√ It's been my experience that people are generally forgiving.
X It's been my experience that people is generally forgiving.
If you aren’t sure whether to use a singular or a plural verb with a collective noun, look it up. Most dictionaries will tell you which is correct.
Back to Grammar tips