Collective nouns can be confusing if you\u2019re not sure what they are. They look singular but they describe a group, so should we treat them as singular or plural? In this post, we try to clear up this grammatical mystery as well as outlining exactly what makes a word a \u2018collective\u2019 noun.\nWhat Are Collective Nouns?\nA collective noun names a group or collection of things or people. In fact, \u2018group\u2019 itself is a collective noun, as are \u2018team\u2019 and \u2018family\u2019. The key is that collective nouns refer to a group whose members can be counted.\n\n[caption id="attachment_5526" align="aligncenter" width="338"] A collective noun photo.(Photo: State Library of Queensland)[\/caption]\n\nTry not to get these confused with mass nouns (otherwise known as \u2018uncountable nouns\u2019). Rather than a group, mass nouns refer to an undifferentiated mass of something. For instance, \u2018water\u2019 is a mass noun because we can\u2019t have just one water, nor do we have groups of \u2018waters\u2019.\nAre Collective Nouns Singular or Plural?\nSubject\u2013verb agreement is the idea that singular nouns should be paired with singular verbs, while plural nouns should be used with plural verbs. This can be a little complicated with collective nouns, though.\n\nIn Australian English, the general rule for collective nouns is:\n\n \tUse a singular verb when treating a collective noun as a single unit.\n \tUse a plural verb when treating a collective noun as a group of individuals.\n\nFor example, we could say something like:\nMy family is having a reunion this weekend.\nHere, we treat \u2018family\u2019 as singular. This is because we're discussing the family as a whole. By contrast, we could say:\nMy family are fighting all the time.\nIn this case, we treat 'family' as plural because we're discussing the family as a group of individuals rather than as a group working together.\nPicking the Right Verb\nTo decide which verb form to use with a collective noun, remember:\n\n \tWhen a group is acting as one, use a singular verb.\n \tWhen the members of a group are acting as individuals, use a plural verb.\n\nIn practice, you can often use either form in a sentence. For example, we could use a singular or plural verb in the following:\nSingular: The team has gone home.\nPlural: The team have gone home.\nBut while both are grammatically correct, each sentence here is slightly different. The first uses the singular verb \u2018is\u2019, which implies the team members have gone home to the same place. But the plural verb \u2018have\u2019 implies the team members have each gone to their own homes separately.\n\nCare over verb choice is therefore vital for clear, error-free writing.\nTerms of Venery\nTerms of venery are collective nouns used to describe a group of animals (e.g. a herd of cows or a flock of sheep). We thought we\u2019d finish on this topic because some of them are quite fun!\n\nFor example, who wouldn\u2019t love to see kaleidoscope of butterflies or a dazzle of zebras? And anyone who\u2019s ever heard a pandemonium of parrots squawking will agree that the term is a good fit.\n\n[caption id="attachment_5527" align="aligncenter" width="360"] Is four enough for a pandemonium?[\/caption]\n\nBut what is your favourite term of venery? Comment below and let us know!