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Collective Nouns as Antecedents

A collective noun is a word used to define a group of objects, where the objects can be people, animals, emotions, inanimate things, concepts, etc. For example, in the phrase “a gaggle of geese,” gaggle is a collective noun.

The important understanding for the GMAT is that while the group is comprised of numerous individual members, the group itself typically acts as a singular unit. This is important from a subject-verb standpoint when evaluating a GMAT sentence correction sentence.

Here is a list of commonly used collective nouns on the GMAT:

audience family council
board faculty

class

group jury team
society firm company
public school minority

Again, when you see a collective noun as the subject of a sentence, it is singular and therefore requires a singular verb conjugation.

Collective Nouns as Antecedents

On more advanced GMAT sentence correction questions, you will be asked to determine correct pronoun-antecedent agreement in sentences with collective nouns. These nouns appear grammatically singular, yet refer to multiple items or individuals. As a rule, because the collective noun is singular, when it is the antecedent in the sentence then we should refer to it using the pronoun it or its. For example:

Incorrect: The committee of elders has the power to enforce their policies without exception.

Correct: The committee of elders has the power to enforce its policies without exception.

The subject of the sentence is the singular noun the committee, so the singular pronoun its must be used to agree properly with the antecedent. Remember that the object of a preposition can’t be the subject of the sentence, so don’t be fooled into thinking that elders is the subject!

EXCEPTION: When a sentence clearly uses a collective noun to refer to the individual members in the collective, then the plural pronoun should be used to refer to the now-plural antecedent. For example:

The dance troupe sometimes accidentally wear their costumes in public.

Clearly the individual troupe members have to be wearing the costumes; it is impossible for the singular troupe to wear uniforms. Thus, the plural their is appropriate to refer to the members of the dance troupe themselves.

On the GMAT:

The GMAT will often insert potentially distracting “filler” between the pronoun and its collective noun antecedent. Make sure that the pronoun is singular when evaluating the underlined portion of the sentence.

Example:

The public’s widespread belief in the existence of UFOs and their general curiosity about extraterrestrial life has generated considerable interest in science fiction.

(A) UFOs and their general curiosity about extraterrestrial life has
(B) UFOs and they are generally curious about extraterrestrial life which has
(C) UFOs, as well as their general curiosity about extraterrestrial life, has
(D) UFOs, as well as its general curiosity about extraterrestrial life, has
(E) UFOs, as well as general curiosity about extraterrestrial life, have

The correct answer is D because their has been changed to its to properly agree with the singular collective noun antecedent the public.

Categories: Blog GMAT Verbal