The Collective Noun Page - Rules


A collective noun, according to Webster's II: New Riverside University Dictionary is: "A noun that denotes a collection of persons or things regarded as a unit. usage: A collective noun takes a singular verb when the reference is to a group as a whole and a plural verb when the reference is to members of a group as single individuals: The orchestra was playing. The orchestra have all gone home.".


My basic guidelines for submission/suggestion go something like this: The suggested noun...
  1. ...can be used as a plural ("She attended two classes.").
  2. ...implies the described object ("He's on the jury [of jurors]." nb. This is not true of newly created or little-known collective nouns.).
  3. not exclusively a container ("a carton of eggs") or unit of measurement ("a ream of paper").
  4. ...refers to the collection of the described object, not an instance of such a collection ("a kindle of kittens in a basket", not "a basket of kittens").
  5. not unnecessarily offensive. I'm afraid i just have to do my best with this. This is a family site, and should not be offensive to (the parents of) young children, but it's also a reference site, which should be as complete as possible. I'll do my best to walk this line. I have not yet felt the need to reject anything on this basis.
  6. not used as a synonym for or type of collection ("set", "list", "group", others).
  7. only one word, where at all possible.
  8. not easily confused with another, related, term. ("chowder of clams" might mean "thick, cream-based soup", so it's not a very good collective).
I'll gladly modify these guidelines with good cause. I try not to censor (reject according to content) any entries. I often put up suggested collectives that i don't personally like.


I have ordered and should soon be receiving two dictionaries of collective nouns: A Crash of Rhinoceroses: A Dictionary of Collective Nouns and An Exaltation of Larks (see also the bibliography). I will document the established collective nouns on the page with references into these works.


As a rule, the collective nouns are documented (somewhere). Nouns i can't confirm or find, that are reported to me by users who claim to have seen them in print or heard them from somewhere i tag as "submitted by". Those that i receive by users who claim to have created them i tag as "suggested by". I believe there are a few on the page that are not so noted, having been added before i came up with my convention. I hope to find the time (in the near future) to go back over them and actually document them. If you want to correct an entry in any way (and are the person who submitted the entry) feel free to mail me at


By way of example, here are some suggestions that failed to make the page, and my comments to their authors. Anything in square brackets ([]) are notes i've added or spelling or context corrections - they were not original parts of the mail. Incidentally, these are all excerpts from this month's (September, 1996) mail.

> a doughnut shop of policemen.
> if you feel that this is at all workable, please don't credit my name or
> address.

I try to keep the collective nouns at one word. After trying to think
of a single-word variant and failing, i thought i'd ask you for help.
Any ideas? Or other suggestions?

> a bed of mattresses.

Is this strictly a collective noun? If there's a room full of
matresses nearby, can you say "hey, there's a bed of matresses in

> (If a noun has the same singular and plural spelling
> like paint or water, does an adjective describing it count as a
> collective noun? i.e. A stream of water.)
> (have these violated the idea of a collective noun? I am assuming that
> to you, a collective noun is a noun that means a group, collection, or a
> lot of something.)

Technically, words like "jury" and "class" are collective nouns.
However, i try to include only those that are used to describe, in some
strict way, the collection, and not the number, type, or container of the
objects. If a word is used in _both_ senses, i include it. I intend to
put together a rules page, of which i have a rough draft, as time
allows. :) I get several pieces of mail a day from this page alone, so
it keeps me pretty busy.

> A house of blues.

I'm not familiar with/don't understand this. What's a blue?
[When i wrote this response, i wasn't intentionally facetious. I realize now that "blues" here might refer to the musical genre. Though i'm still not sure.]
> a rack of clothes
> an album of songs

I didn't include these as they refer to the physical objects.

> an encroachment of fence-builders.
> An embellishment of exaggerators.
> A thrombosis of heart specialists.

These seem a little strained, but i included them anyway.

> An assassination of gangsters.

I have a little trouble with this as assassination implies a
"prominent person" (Webster's II). I like "a murder of gangsters"
better, but it's been done, so to speak (crows). I also like "a stupid
of gangsters", but that just reflects my personal attitudes. Any other
suggestion for gangsters? Or would you like me to pose the question to
the mailing list?
[I have since added "a knuckle of gangsters", as suggested by
Alexandra Irvin, In her words: " It seems to have
the right combination of brutality (fists) and stupidity (knucklehead?).".]

> An obfuscation of philosophers/politicians/economists.

While i don't mind a single collective being used to describe more
than one class of objects, i'd much rather they be very closely related,
like [for example] "[an] incantation of witches/warlocks". English is wonderously
diverse; there's no need for this sort of duplicity. Don't you agree?

> A rasher of bacon

Since "rasher" is well-defined as a slice of bacon, it seems ambiguous
to also define it as a collection of slices of bacon.

> A school of thought.
> A body of works. (the collected works of one author)
(i believe it's "a body of work")

I think these fail the initial definition of a collective noun. If
it were "a school of thoughts", then it would be a collective noun.

> A [forest] of trees.

(A forest includes, in its definition, trees, but that
alone does not make "forest" the collective noun for trees. By
analogy, "office" is not the collective noun for desks simply because it
contains them.)
[This is only slightly different from rule #3 above, which excludes containers. (which "forest" and "office" aren't considered, typically)]
> * A spectre of ghosts
> * A belief of opinions
> * A social of friends

I try to be careful about using words for a collective that might be easily confused in context. For example, "There's a social in the other room.", if "social" can mean "a group of friends" as well as it's customary definition of "an informal social gathering", can be confusing.

> * A round of applause

"applause" isn't a plurality of objects, so "round", in this sense, isn't a collective noun.

Jump List: Submit | Rules | Mailing List | Bibliography | Related Info | Credits | Feedback
The Collective Noun Page | Linguistic Fun Page | OjoHaven