Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
n. (context grammar English) A noun which, though singular, refers to a group of things or animals. Examples: a school of fish, a pride of lions.
n. a noun that is singular in form but refers to a group of people or things
In linguistics, a collective noun is a word which refers to a collection of things taken as a whole. Most collective nouns in everyday speech are mundane and are not specific to one specific kind, such as the word "group," which may apply to "people" in the phrase "a group of people" but may also correctly refer to "dogs," in the phrase "a group of dogs." Other collective nouns are specific to one kind, especially terms of venery, which are words for specific groups of animals. For example, "pride" as a term of venery always refers to lions, never to dogs or cows.
Morphological derivation accounts for many collective words. Because derivation is a slower and less productive word formation process than the more overtly syntactical morphological methods, there are fewer collectives formed this way. As with all derived words, derivational collectives often differ semantically from the original words, acquiring new connotations and even new denotations.
The English endings -age and -ade often signify a collective. Sometimes, the relationship is easily recognizable: baggage, drainage, blockade. However, even though the etymology is plain to see, the derived words take on a distinct meaning.
German uses the prefix ge- to create collectives. The root word often undergoes umlaut and suffixation as well as receiving the ge- prefix. Nearly all nouns created in that way are of neuter gender:
- , "group of hills, mountain range" , "mountain" or "hill"
- , "luggage, baggage" < , "pack, bundle, pile"
- , "poultry, fowl (birds)" < late MHG , under the influence of , "wing" < MHG < OHG = collective formation of , "bird"
- , "plumage" < , "feather"
Dutch has a similar pattern but sometimes uses the (unproductive) circumfix :
- 'mountain' > 'mountain range'
- 'bone' > 'skeleton'
- 'bird' > 'poultry'
- 'leaf' > 'foliage'
The following Swedish example has different words in the collective form and in the individual form:
- An individual mosquito is a (plural: ), but mosquitos as a collective is .
Esperanto uses the collective suffix -ar to produce a large number of derived words:
- monto 'mountain' > montaro 'mountain range'
- birdo 'bird' > birdaro 'flock'
- arbo 'tree' > arbaro 'forest'
- libro 'book' > libraro 'library'
- manĝilo 'utensil' > manĝilaro 'silverware', 'cutlery'