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I speak English as a foreign language and find it unique in several aspects. One of them is the large number of collective nouns, especially for groups of birds. Such high degree of specificity reaches the point where you have several nouns for a single species, just depending on whether the group is on land, flying together, or just flying at random. We say there is a parliament of owls, a murder of crows, a company of parrots, a plump or moorhens, a clutch of chickens, a kettle of hawks, a watch of nightingales, a covey of partridges, a pod of pelicans, a sedge of cranes, a flock of geese on land, a plump of geese flying close, a skein of geese in flight, and so on. The list is indeed very long. My question is – Are these nouns standard in every English Speaking Country ? Are they treated seriously so native speakers have to learn them at school ? Or is it just a fun thing ? Can these collective nouns take both a singular and a plural verb - depending on context ?

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More importantly, what would you call a classroom of students learning about collective nouns? –  JeffSahol Apr 1 at 0:28
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Some of these are quite common and colloquial (a pride of lions, a school of fish, a murder of crows), while others are obscure and ‘just for fun’. I sincerely doubt most native English speakers would know the difference between a flock of geese, a plump of geese, and a skein of geese, for example; or that they’d have even heard such obscure terms as a gulp of cormorants, a rangale of deer, a chirm of finches, or a nye of pheasants. And then there are the ones that are clearly humorous: a superfluity of nuns, a hastiness of cooks, an observance of hermits, etc. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 1 at 0:29
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@JeffSahol, that would most likely be a bewilderment of students, I’m thinking. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 1 at 0:30
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if more people knew these collective nouns, more people would enjoy my favorite image pun: cdn.iwastesomuchtime.com/February-12-2012-18-29-49-atempt.jpg –  Michael Edenfield Apr 1 at 3:31
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3 Answers 3

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Collective nouns in English are very often the stuff of trivia questions. This is due to their rarity in common usage.

There are several that are commonly used, though:

Pride of lions
Flock of sheep
Gaggle of geese
School of fish, etc.

Some are of moderate familiarity but rarely used (except in scientific or poetic use):

Murder of crows
Pod of whales

Some are never used outside trivia contest:

Clowder of cats
Kettle of hawks
Convocation of eagles
And, numerous other obscure collectives.

In general, these terms are seldom used, and are often quite antiquated. Most do not learn them in schools (except as interesting tidbits).

Here is a fairly extensive listing of animal collective nouns.

Groups of animals are more likely to be referred to as herds, flocks, or even merely groups.

As to whether or not they can be used with verbs: yes. Typically they take a singular verb form.

The pride runs quickly and quietly when it is on the hunt.

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@ David M, you've said they "Typically take a singular verb form" but in your example you've used the verb in the third person singular, and the personal prounoun in third person plural. (The pride runs.....when they are...) Is that really what you meant ? –  Luis Apr 1 at 1:01
    
@Luis thanks. Corrected. Although it's not 100% incorrect to do so. –  David M Apr 1 at 1:12
    
Murder of Crows is a pretty lousy example of a rarely used case; it's quite popular because of the intensely poetic image. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Apr 1 at 3:44
    
@LessPop_MoreFizz It's still not common except in poetry or trivia contests. How often are you walking down the street and say, "Jeez, check out that murder of crows!"? –  David M Apr 1 at 3:50
    
About as often as I say "check out that pride of lions." It's not common, but it's definitely not in the same category as "pod of pelicans" or "sedge of cranes". –  LessPop_MoreFizz Apr 1 at 3:51
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Are they treated seriously so native speakers have to learn them at school? Or is it just a fun thing?

From the Collective nouns Wikipedia page cited by David M

... the list in the Book of Saint Albans (1486) runs to 165 items, many of which, even though introduced by the compaynys of beestys and fowlys, do not relate to venery [words for groups of animals] but to human groups and professions and are clearly humorous.

Are these nouns standard in every English Speaking Country?

No. Looking at Wikipedia's List of animal names, we can see the reasonably standard generic collective nouns, such as pack of dogs, and the simply humorous, such as a bloat of hippopotamuses.

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They're not very important, and I don't think they're explicitly taught in elementary school.

Contrast with some Asian languages such as Chinese and Japanese where the appropriate "counter word" ("measure word") must be memorized along with every noun. In that case, the measure word helps disambiguate the noun from other similar-sounding nouns. In English, the collective noun could be replaced with a generic word such as "bunch" with little or no loss of meaning.

Some are useful metaphors such as gaggle of girls, which implies a noisy boisterous group of young ladies, or the alliterative term of venery bevy of broads which is just a skanktastic term.

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