Collective Nouns in the English Language, continued

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.
Examples of singular collective nouns
Litter, luggage
The verb that follows nouns litter and luggage must be in singular form. Examples:
Examples of plural collective nouns
People, police
These nouns are plural in meaning (they refer to more that one person), so they must be used with the verb in plural. Examples:
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
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).
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!
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 user 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 notational subject, but that might be one of the future texts. Please refer to Books page to see which resources were used in writing of this text.

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.

Jotpub has several tests about English nouns — you can solve them, check answers, or even print out. Here’s one test about the plural forms.

Singular collective nouns

Litter, luggage

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

People, police

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.

Collective Nouns in the English Language

What are collective nouns and what is so interesting about them? A collective noun by its meaning refers to a group of entities (animate or inanimate, such as people or things). The main issue with the collective nouns is whether they should be used as a singular or plural. In this and following text we will shed some light on this “problem” in simplified, and hopefully, useful way.

Examples of Collective Nouns

A collective noun is one that is singular in form and denotes a number of individuals […]. — Fowler

Here are some of the nouns that “denote number or individuals”: audience, choir, army, board, family, committee, flock, multitude, jury, government; we count into this group and names of the animals such as deer, grouse, sheep, trout and names of political entities: the United States, the Vatican, the Commons, Congress.

Are they used in plural or singular?

That depends on one important thing: emphasis. If you are referring to the single entities, use singular:

The Roman army is immense.

But, you can view these nouns as denoting list of individuals, so you use plural (logical plural, how it is called in the grammars):

The jury were told to retire.

Determiners count also

In linguistics, a collective noun is a word used to define a group of objects, where “objects” can be people, animals, emotions, inanimate things, concepts, or other things. For example, in the phrase “a pride of lions,” pride is a collective noun. — Wikipedia

If the noun is preceded by a singular determiner, that is, if there is a word in font of the collective noun that tells us that the noun must be singular, we use singular form. Example of these determiners: a, an, each, every, this.

Each government is independent.

Form a — of requires plural

See the example:

A group of children were playing on a see-saw.*

British VS American English collective nouns

MORE ON NOUNS

Read the next part about collective nouns.

Online practice for English nouns.

This is one rather interesting fact: collective nouns that refer to a large or indeterminate number of people (government, mob, staff) are used in British English as either singular or plural, whereas in American English they are always used as singular:

BrE:
Iceland’s government is on the point of collapse.
I have to say that the Government are making themselves look ridiculous.

AmE:
The American Government Is Spending, But What Exactly Is It Buying?

Names of countries as collective nouns

Names of countries can be followed by plural verbs if the noun refers to a people (representatives) of that country.

Example:

Germany [= the German team] were in good form, winning 3-0 against France.*

References: How to Write Better English* by Robert Allen; Fowler's Modern English Usage.

Addressing and Ending: Formal Letters in the English language

How to start or end formal letter in English? How to address a person if you know the name or the title? Here are the tips adapted from Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

Practice grammar and solve English language tests. It’s free.

Beginning and salutation in formal letters

If you are writing to someone whose name you do not know, especially in British English you can put:

Dear Sir
Dear Madam
Dear Sirs
Dear Sir / Madam
Dear Sir or Madam.

In American English this form is used, but not in British:

To whom it may concern.

If you are addressing to someone by name, use their title and surname.

Dear Dr Smith (BrE)
Dear Dr. Smith (AmE)

Note the usage of full stop after the title in the American English version.

Do not write full name and (or) the title:

Dear James Smith
Dear Dr. James Smith

Ending formal letters

In American English:

Sincerely
Sincerely Yours
Yours Truly

In British English:

If you have mentioned person’s name: Yours sincerely;
If you started the letter generically with Dear Sir / Madam, etc: Yours faithfully.