In this lesson, we are going to explain a topic of the Italian grammar that is very important, and that will help you expand your vocabulary and use a specific type of nouns in the correct way: we are talking about collective nouns. Let’s get started!
Collective nouns in Italian: Singular or Plural?
Collective nouns are singular nouns that indicate a plurality, a multitude of people, animals, or things.
It is a very peculiar grammar topic because collective nouns can sometimes create difficulties in the accord of verbs and adjectives for what concerns the number, and this is because we are using a singular noun to indicate a set of multiple entities.
However, the grammar rules of the Italian language help us solve this problem: when the subject is singular, the adjectives and verbs connected to it should be singular as well.
Therefore, even if the subject indicates a plurality of things or people, the verbs and adjectives that accompany it will be singular.
Let’s make some examples:
- Una minacciosa mandria di bufali si avvicinò ai turisti → A frightful herd of buffaloes moved closer to the tourists
As you can see, the adjective “minacciosa” [frightful] (feminine singular) and the verb “si avvicinò” [moved closer] (third-person singular) agree with the collective noun “mandria” [herd], which is feminine and singular.
- Dopo la partita, la squadra avversaria potrà andare a cambiarsi negli spogliatoi → After the game, the opposing team will be able to go and change in the locker room
Also, in this case, the adjective “avversaria” [opposing] and the verb “potrà” [will be able to] agree with the feminine singular collective noun “squadra” [team].
QUIZ: COLLECTIVE NOUNS
In this quiz, we are going to test your knowledge. We will ask you which word you use to indicate a plurality of specific entities, and you will have to guess the correct collective noun. Are you ready? Let’s begin!
1. What collective noun do you use to indicate a group of people?
A) Foresta → forest
B) Flotta → fleet
C) Folla → crowd
The correct answer is C: folla [crowd]! The collective noun “foresta” [forest] indicates a set of trees, whereas “flotta” [fleet] identifies a group of ships. Another collective noun often used to represent a group of persons is “gente” [people], which is also feminine and singular, just like folla [crowd]. Let’s make an example:
- Andare a fare compere in centro di domenica pomeriggio è stata una pessima idea: non si riusciva a camminare in mezzo a tutta quella folla → Going shopping downtown on a Sunday afternoon was a terrible idea: we could not pass through the crowd
2. Which one of these collective nouns defines a group of birds?
A) Truppa → troop
B) Stormo → flock
C) Sciame → swarm
The correct answer is B: stormo [flock]. Whereas, the collective noun “truppa” [troop] indicates a group of soldiers, just like the word “esercito” [army]; “sciame” [swarm] represents a group of bees. Here is an example with the term “stormo” [flock]:
- Uno stormo di uccelli migratori si alzò in volo e si diresse verso i paesi più caldi → A flock of migratory birds took off and moved towards warmer countries
3. What collective noun indicates a group of sheep?
A) Coro → choir
B) Mazzo → bunch
C) Gregge → flock/herd
The correct answer is, once again, C: gregge [flock/herd]. The noun “coro” [choir] indicates a group of singers, whereas “mazzo” [bunch] can define a floral bouquet or a deck of cards. Let’s make some examples:
- Il pastore portò il gregge a pascolare in cima alla collina → The shepherd brought the flock to graze at the top of the hill
- Per farsi perdonare, ha regalato alla sua ragazza un mazzo di rose rosse → To be forgiven, he gave his girlfriend a bunch of red roses
- Domenica scorsa ho deciso di iniziare a cantare nel coro della chiesa → Last Sunday, I decided to start singing in the church choir
THE PLURAL FORM OF COLLECTIVE NOUNS
Attention! Collective nouns can also have a plural form, and in this case, they indicate two or more groups or sets. For example, we could say:
- Per giocare a Machiavelli servono due mazzi di carte → You need two decks of cards to play Machiavelli
- In cielo si scorgevano almeno cinque stormi di uccelli neri → In the sky, there were at least five flocks of black birds
- Gli eserciti avversari si scontrarono sul campo di battaglia → The opposing armies fought on the battlefield
Do not get confused, and be careful!
Now, to encourage you to study, we came up with a fun game that we are sure you will enjoy:
Anyone who writes in the comments 3 correct sentences containing 3 collective nouns will have the opportunity to choose and get one of the following prizes:
1 – 10% coupon code for the LearnAmo Collection merch;
2 – 69% coupon code to access the course Italiano in Contesto;
3 – 50% coupon code to buy our book Italiano Colloquiale: Parole ed Espressioni per Tutti i Giorni.
And if you had enough of collective nouns, have a look at our video about indefinite adjectives: qualche, qualunque, qualsiasi e ogni.