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Unit 1: English In A Minute
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Session 15

Welcome to English In A Minute. Give us a minute and we'll give you a hot tip about English. Grammar, vocabulary... there's so much to learn! And all taught by your favourite BBC Learning English staff!

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    Activity 1

Activity 1

A secret about collective nouns

Do you have a minute to spare to learn some English? Here's Dan to divulge a secret about collective nouns! Give us 60 seconds and we'll give you the English!

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Dan
Hi, I'm Dan from BBC Learning English and today I'm going to tell you something about collective nouns.

Collective nouns are often called group nouns. That is because they represent a number of things together. Examples are: government, family and team.

So, what's the big deal?

The special thing about these collective nouns is that they can be singular or plural.

If you consider your family to be a group of individuals, then the pronoun is they and the verb is plural. My family are happy.

But your family can also be considered as a single unit, a machine that all works together. In this case, the pronoun is it and the verb is singular. My family is happy.

This does not apply to all collective nouns, so be careful. Police and staff are always plural.

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A secret about collective nouns

Collective nouns, or group nouns, represent a number of things or people together. Some of them can be both singular or plural - both are correct and the choice is up to the speaker. 

  • Government
  • Family
  • Team

Be careful
Not all collective nouns act in this way. Some are always plural.

  • The police are coming.
  • The staff are tired.

A group of individuals
These nouns can be considered a group of individuals - a football team has 11 individual players. In this case, the pronoun is they and the verb form is plural.

  • My football team are the best. They are unbeatable.
  • The government plan to raise taxes. They are always doing that.
  • My family are happy. They never have any problems.

A unit
These nouns can also be considered a unit - even though they have individual parts, they function together in unison. In this case, the pronoun is it and the verb form is singular.

  • My football team is the best. It is unbeatable.
  • The government plans to raise taxes. It is always doing that.
  • My family is happy. It never has any problems.

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