Collective and Partitive Nouns
How can we tell the difference between collective and partitive nouns? Their names give us a clue. Collective nouns are for collections, while partitive nouns break things into parts. Look at the examples above, and think through what the nouns are doing in each case.
Collective nouns are words for a group of people, animals, or objects. You may not be aware you already use them in every day speech. You likely already refer to a class of students, a team of players, and a band of musicians.
Collective nouns are used with countable nouns. That means that the collective noun is a single group, but the group is made of various things. Notice what this means for the subject-verb agreement.
Correct: There are five flowers in the vase.
Correct: There is a bouquet of flowers in the vase.
Incorrect: There is five flowers in the vase.
Incorrect: There are a bouquet of flowers in the vase.
A common error for English students is to treat the word people as a collective noun. It’s not! It’s a plural noun. If you want to refer to a group of people and use a collective noun, there are lots of options.
Correct: The people at this party are friendly.
Incorrect: The people at this party is friendly.
Correct: The crowd at this party is friendly.
Click on the collective nouns in the following sentences.
Partitive Nouns and Noun Phrases
Partitive nouns break up a group, so that we know how much of something we are referring to. They are especially useful when we want to know the quantity of a non-count noun. You can say that you want a cup of coffee, and that you prefer it with a teaspoon of sugar.
However, partitive nouns can refer to both non-count and count nouns. You can have a bag of water, but also a bag of 6 apples.