This is another part of the series on "Nouns". This is all about compound and collective nouns. This is good for in class use or at your home. It has exercises to go along and work sheets the you can download also.
Collective nouns name a group or collection of people or
things that are taken together and spoken of as one whole.
The big question with collective nouns is whether they
should be treated as singular or plural. The answer is: They
can be treated as singular or plural depending on the
sense of your sentence. This is covered in more depth in
the lesson Collective Nouns – Singular or Plural? and in the
Beware section on the right of this page.
Collective Noun Singular or Plural?
A collective noun can be singular or plural depending on the sense of the
sentence. In the first example below, the shoal is considered as one unit.
Therefore, shoal is considered singular. However, in the second example, the
shoal is considered as lots of individuals, and shoal is considered plural.
The shoal was moving north.
(singular – considered as one unit)
The shoal were darting in all directions.
(plural – considered as individuals)
As far as I am concerned, Marylebone Cricket Club still has nineteenth-
century values and standards.
Add a Word to Avoid the Issue
To simplify matters, a word for the individuals within the group can be
introduced. In the first example below, it is necessary to decide whether the
collective noun jury should be singular or plural. However, by adding members
of, you are forced to use a plural verb.
The jury is/are to convene at 4 o'clock.
(A decision is required: Is jury singular or plural?)
The members of the jury are to convene at 4 o'clock.
(no decision required – the word members is plural)
A complete list of collective nouns can be found here.
Try the quiz on the next few slides. It is good
practice for you or your students.
Choose the correct collective noun some could
have 2 possible answers. So becareful.
A collective noun names a group of people, animals, or
things. The whole group is one unit even though you could
count the individual members of the group. A collective
noun takes a singular verb.
1. The jury took a long time to reach a verdict.
2. The army was on the march for several days.
Check Answer Next
3. The audience rose and applauded the performance.
4. The band played five numbers before they took a break.
5. The team played as hard as they could, but they just couldn't score a goal.
Check Answer Next
6. A majority of the students in Ms. Baker's class got on the honor roll.
7. The cast had a party after the show was over.
8. The company laid off a lot of workers, including my dad.
Check Answer Next
9. That gang is trying to get Josh to join, but he doesn't want to be a part of it.
10. The school choir performed at the all-city talent show.
11. Miranda's family is going to Disneyland this summer.
Check Answer Next
12. The whole school is attending an assembly right now.
13. The senate will be voting on the education bill tomorrow.
14. There will be two new teachers on the faculty next year.
15. The flock of sheep scattered when a wolf entered their pasture.
Check Answer Next
A compound noun is a noun that is made with two or more
words. A compound noun is usually [noun + noun] or
[adjective + noun], but there are other combinations (see
below). It is important to understand and recognize compound
nouns. Each compound noun acts as a single unit and can be
modified by adjectives and other nouns.
Some compound nouns are single words. For example:
noun-noun compound: tooth + paste → toothpaste
noun-noun compound: day + dream → daydream
adjective-noun compound: black + bird → blackbird
verb-noun compound: wash + room → washroom
noun-verb compound: breast + feeding → breastfeeding
adjective-verb compound: high + light → highlight
verb-preposition compound: break + up → breakup
preposition-verb compound: out + break → outbreak
Some compound nouns are multiple word noun phrases. The
word or words that precedes or follows the noun functioning as
the noun phrase head functions as a noun phrase modifier or a
noun phrase complement. For example:
secretary of state
Queen of England
Multiple word compound nouns are noun phrases rather than true nouns.
Other compound nouns are single words that contain hyphens.
Use a Hyphen to Eliminate Ambiguity
There are no specific rules on forming compound nouns. For example, ink-well
can be also be written ink well or inkwell – all are correct spellings. However,
you should use a hyphen to eliminate ambiguity. Ambiguity is particularly
prevalent when the first word of the pairing is a substance (like water or ink).
water-bottle / water bottle
(When the first word is a substance, a hyphen is used to show that
the item is not made of that substance.)
ice-axe / ice axe
(Both are acceptable, but ice-axe makes it clear that the axe is not
made of ice.)
paper-clip / paper clip / paperclip
(All 3 are acceptable. However, if the clip were made of paper, then
only paper clip could be used.)
Please could you pass me that plastic wire-fastener?
(a fastener made of plastic, i.e., not wire)
There is also some ambiguity when the first word of the pairing ends ing. (This is
called a present participle.)
changing-room / changing room
(Both are acceptable, but changing-room makes it clear that the room is
laughing-gas / laughing gas
(Both are acceptable, but laughing-gas makes it clear that the gas is not
NOT ALL HAVE A ONE-WORD VERSION
Be aware that not all compound nouns have a one-word version. Even though
inkwell and paperclip are fine, iceaxe and waterbottle are spelling mistakes.
There are no rules governing this – you have to know.
Compound nouns tend to have more stress on the first word. In
the phrase "pink ball", both words are equally stressed (as you
know, adjectives and nouns are always stressed). In the compound
noun "golf ball", the first word is stressed more (even though both
words are nouns, and nouns are always stressed). Since "golf ball"
is a compound noun we consider it as a single noun and so it has a
single main stress - on the first word. Stress is important in
it helps us know if somebody said "a GREEN HOUSE" (a house which
is painted green) or
"a GREENhouse" (a building made of glass for growing plants inside).
British / American differences
Different varieties of English, and even different writers, may use
the open, hyphenated or closed form for the same compound
noun. It is partly a matter of style. There are no definite rules.
For example we can find:
If you are not sure which form to use, please check in a good dictionary.
Here are some examples of compound nouns:
noun + noun bus stop Is this the bus stop for the number 12 bus?
fire-fly In the tropics you can see fire-flies at night.
football Shall we play football today?
adjective + noun full moon I always feel crazy at full moon.
blackboard Clean the blackboard please.
software I can't install this software on my PC.
verb(-ing) + noun breakfast We always eat breakfast at 8am.
washing machine Put the clothes in the red washing machine.
swimming pool What a beautiful swimming pool!
noun + verb(-ing) sunrise I like to get up at sunrise.
haircut You need a haircut.
train-spotting His hobby is train-spotting.
verb + preposition check-out Please remember that check-out is at 12
noun + prepositional
mother-in-law My mother-in-law lives with us.
preposition + noun underworld Do you think the police accept money from
noun + adjective truckfull We need 10 truckfulls of bricks.
Plural Forms of Compound Nouns
In general we make the plural of a compound noun by adding -s to
the "base word" (the most "significant" word). Look at these
a tennis shoe three tennis shoes
one assistant headmaster five assistant headmasters
the sergeant major some sergeants major
a mother-in-law two mothers-in-law
an assistant secretary of state three assistant secretaries of
my toothbrush our toothbrushes
a woman-doctor four women-doctors
a doctor of philosophy two doctors of philosophy
a passerby, a passer-by two passersby, two passers-by
Note that there is some variation with words like spoonful or
truckful. The old style was to say spoonsful or trucksful for the
plural. Today it is more usual to say spoonfuls or truckfuls. Both
the old style (spoonsful) and the new style (spoonfuls) are
normally acceptable, but you should be consistent in your
choice. Here are some examples:
old style plural
new style plural
teaspoonful 3 teaspoonsful of sugar 3 teaspoonfuls of sugar
truckful 5 trucksful of sand 5 truckfuls of sand
bucketful 2 bucketsful of water 2 bucketfuls of water
cupful 4 cupsful of rice 4 cupfuls of rice
Some compound nouns have no obvious base word and you
may need to consult a dictionary to find the plural:
Note that with compound nouns made of [noun + noun] the first
noun is like an adjective and therefore does not usually take an -s.
A tree that has apples has many apples, but we say an apple tree,
not apples tree; matchbox not matchesbox; toothbrush not
With compound nouns made of [noun + noun] the second noun
takes an -s for plural. The first noun acts like an adjective and as
you know, adjectives in English are invariable. Look at these
long plural form becomes › plural compound noun
[noun + noun]
100 trees with apples 100 apple trees
1,000 cables for telephones 1,000 telephone cables
20 boxes for tools 20 tool boxes
10 stops for buses 10 bus stops
4,000 wheels for cars 4,000 car wheels
Compound Nouns Quiz
Using compound nouns, can you shorten the following phrases?
1. a room for stores
2. a tape for measuring
up to 300 cms
3. the assistant manager
of the restaurant
4. a station for express
5. size of cables
6. reduction in cost
7. two periods of three months
8. plugs with 3 pins
9. two steel boxes for the tools
10. the husband of my daughter
The link below is to some worksheets that you can
use for class work, home work, or for yourself.
Collective & Compound Nouns Work Sheets
Any questions, comments, advice, and / or wishes –
you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org