We mentioned collective nous, and said why they are so interesting. In this text we will see what is the fuss about measles, means, Mathematics and luggage.
Collective nouns denote a group, or collection, of people or things (Casell 45). If they refer to physical things it is easier to decide about verb form that follows them, because these nouns can be either singular or plural – at least most of them.
Singular collective nouns
The verb that follows nouns litter and luggage must be in singular form, and they are always singular.
Examples: Luggage is any number of bags, cases and containers which hold a traveller’s articles during transit. (English Wikipedia) Litter is primarily a result of human neglect and poor waste management (…). (PR Newswire)
Plural collective nouns
These nouns are plural in meaning (they refer to more that one person), so they must be used with the verb in plural.
Examples: He said people are warning us about a loss of confidence. (Fox News) Police are looking for leads in the case and are asking the public’s help in capturing the pair (…). (The Rolla Daily News)
However, if they denote several persons, how do we talk about one person only? We must use forms like:
a member of a police or
a piece of luggage
Example: Time doesn’t really matter to a piece of luggage, nor does comfort. (MIT TR)
Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing. — William Safire
People and peoples
Please note that if you wish to talk about “the human beings of a particular nation, community or ethnic group” use word peoples. For example the indigenous peoples of Australia. Word people means “any group of human beings (men, women or children) collectively”, for example old people or there were at least 200 people in the audience. (Princeton WN).
Examples: Listen to indigenous peoples (Public Service); James O’Donnell, author of the book “Ohio’s First Peoples,” said, “Native peoples’ assistance was instrumental to European settlers in finding the high ground (…) (The Lantern); Ancient History in depth: Peoples of Britain (The BBC)
Plural nouns treated as singular
What a surprise, we have got these as well. They denote singular item although they “look” like plural.
Names of sciences
Words like mathematics or physics can sometimes be considered singular (Thomson 27), and here are the examples:
His mathematics are weak.
Mathematics is an exact science. (Thomson 27)
Linguistics looks at what we actually read and write, and tries to explain why.
Don’t let anyone say politics is not about personalities. (Allen 14)
Aside from names of sciences, we have other plural nouns treated as singular, such as certain diseases: mumps, rickets, shingles; some games: billiards, darts, draughts, bowls, dominoes.
Example: The news is good.
If you are wondering what is the “singular” of news, it is: a piece of news! Example: “It’s an immense piece of news for the club and for the player that Messi is renewing his contract (…)” (BBC Sport)
Data – singular or plural?
Noun data is “singular mass noun when the emphasis is on its collective or cumulative nature” (Allen 15). Example: We need to be sure that our data is in a form that can be used by other institutions. Data is sometimes used in plural in “contexts where the individuality of the items of information is important, or when language purists insist on its full grammatical value, although it sounds awkward of affected” (Allen 16): Data have been obtained from some 1500 diary respondents.
Means and means
As if this was not enough, there is a noun that defies all the above: means. It is plural in form, but it can be used with verb in plural or singular, which depends on words used with the noun. So, it can be a means of or various means of.
That is all for now about collective nouns. Maybe we could mention notional subject in the context of collective nouns, but that might be in one of the future texts. Please refer to Books & References page to see which resources were used in writing of this text. Also, feel free to post useful links in the comments.