Tag Archives: nouns

A Treatise on Nouns

I’ve noticed recently that when people are writing about our planet they are not giving it a capital letter.

When I was at school, I learned that there are three kinds of nouns, common, abstract, collective and proper. Of those three, proper nouns need a capital letter.

Common nouns are the names of most objects, such as dog. house. flower. There are many of these things and the name does not refer to any particular one.

A dog is an animal with four legs.

Jane lives in a big house,

Johnnie gave me flowers for my birthday.

And so on.

Abstract nouns are intangible things, such as an emotion.

Jo felt fear when confronted by the snarling dog.

The love that the elderly couple shared was obvious.

Freedom is important.

And so on.

Collective nouns refer to a group. When I was at school, we learned the collective nouns for a number of things



A flock of sheep (not a herd as I’ve sometimes seen.)

A herd of cows.

A skein of geese when flying but a gaggle when on the ground.

A charm of larks, a murmuration of starlings and a murder of crows etc.

Collective nouns are referring to ONE thing. That think might be made up of a number of individuals, but it’s still ONE thing. Thus you should use the singular form of the verb.

The team are playing well. (wrong)
The team is playing well. (correct)


The government are going to pass a law. (wrong)
The government is going to pass a law. (correct)

The crowd are applauding. (wrong)
The crowd is applauding. (correct)

Finally, we come to what started this off. Proper Nouns. They always begin with a capital letter.

The names of people are an obvious one. We refer to Harry Brown. It’s one specific person we are talking about, so Harry has a capital letter.

If we know the name of the dog we were talking about in the first example, its name would be in a capital letter.

Come here, Rover.

If we are going to a particular place, it would have a capital letter.

I’m going to Paris next week.

Now I’ve noticed that people are no longer giving our planet a capital letter. If we are talking about Mars, Venus, Saturn, or any of the other planets, people always capitalise the first letter. Not so our own planet. Why is that? Is Earth not as important as another planet? Are we saying that Earth is a generality? Why? Surely the planet we live on is more important to us than all the others.

My reasoning goes like this:
We often refer the stuff the planet is made from as earth. Thus we don’t make a difference when referring to the planet.
The gardener planted the tree in the earth.

That’s fine, because in this case, earth is another word for soil, which is a common noun. But we must be careful when we are referring to our planet. Then Earth is a proper noun, so should be capitalised.

And while we’re on it—Fantasy and SciFi writers, please don’t refer to the soil or ground as earth. It’s not.

Thank you for reading. Please leave comments in the box. I would like to know what you think of this.

How to use collective nouns correctly

I have recently been a little irritated by people’s use of collective nouns, or rather the use of the verb with them. Many people seem to think that it should always be a plural verb.

Now, collective nouns do refer to a number of things, but these things are ‘collected’ into one, hence the name ‘collective nouns.’

When I was a little girl at school, we learned a lot of collective nouns:

a FLOCK of sheep
a HERD of cows
a MURDER of crows (I particularly liked this one.)
a CHARM of larks

There are also a great many more. They all refer to a GROUP of people or things. Here are some more examples.

army
team
choir
committee
array
council
school
class
pack
shoal
family

You get the idea? Each of those things are made up of a number of people, animals or things. The problem arises as to whether the verb that is with it should be singular or plural.

What has been annoying me recently is that many people, and educated ones too, are using the plural all the time with these nouns when they should be using the singular.

The rule is that if they are acting as a group, all doing the same thing, then the noun takes the singular verb, but if they are acting as individuals, then the verb should be plural.

I’ll give you some examples.

One is in a song for Manchester United Football Club. The fans sing ‘United ARE the team for me.’ now, they are all playing a game of football, and all the players are acting together (one would hope) in order to wim that game. The team is acting as a unit. Therefore the song should be ‘United IS the team for me.’

When the match is over, the players are no longer acting together. They are going home to their separate families and so now we say ‘The team are all going home.’

Here is another. When a flock of sheep sees the sheepdogs coming, they bunch together and run in the same direction to try to get away from them. They are all acting together to try to escape this perceived threat. This time it is correct to say ‘The flock WAS driven towards the gate by the sheepdogs so that it could eat the new grass.’ Note the use of the singular pronoun too.

When they are through the gate and in the pasture, the sheep will spread around, each one grazing, but not acting as a unit. Therefore we use the plural and say ‘The flock are now eating the new grass and they seem to be enjoying it.’ Here the verb and pronoun are plural because the sheep are acting as individuals.

I hope this has helped you to sort out these problems. Grammar can be a bit tricky at times, but I think it is important. People generally do not complain about correct grammar, but incorrect grammar can make a reader stop reading a book, and not buy any others by that author. They also tell other people not to bother. I know, I have done it myself.

Another downside of poor grammar is when applying for jobs. If your grammar is poor, your letter will go straight in the bin.

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