What are the contexts for using a bunch and a group when describing a handful of people? Please take both spoken and written English into account.

For example, when is it more appropriate to use "a bunch of people" vs. "a group of people"? And are "a bunch of people" or "a bunch of friends" appropriate in an essay? Under which circumstances would either be preferred over the other?

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    Perhaps you should ask in the title: What is the difference between a "group of people" and a "bunch of people"? – Mari-Lou A Aug 31 '14 at 22:02
  • I am asking this question as often i have written english essay and have been corrected for using bunch amd group. I could never understand which context to use which. From your comment i suppose it can differ in formality. But i feel it has a much more deeper difference. – DarkDestry Aug 31 '14 at 22:18
  • Well I would never write in a formal essay: "A bunch of mates plotted against King James I..." That is sloppy writing. But "John, Peter, Thomas are a great bunch of friends" is perfectly acceptable. Could you provide a sentence? That would be more helpful. – Mari-Lou A Aug 31 '14 at 22:31
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    I would say "a group of friends" or "a group of people" if you're really concerned about speech. That's my personal advice, a group of friends/people will always be acceptable, in whichever context. – Mari-Lou A Sep 1 '14 at 18:16
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    I was taught early on that a "bunch" is connected (grapes, bananas, roses on a bush, etc.) while a "group" was not (people, carrots, cut roses) – user129572 Jul 17 '15 at 4:52

I would say a bunch of people is informal. You can use it where informal writing is appropriate. Otherwise, choose another word, like group.

bunch (dictionary.com, definition #3)

Informal. a group of people: They're a fine bunch of students.

Update This update addresses the concerns expressed in the comments about when a situation calls for informal vs. formal styles in both writing and speaking:

When it comes to both writing and speaking styles, there is no strict dichotomy between informal and formal styles. There is really a continuous spectrum of formality and choosing your style depends on a number of factors. Here are some examples:

  • If your speaking or writing audience is your book club, you probably can (and should) get by with a style on the informal end of the spectrum.
  • If you want to convince an audience at the Royal Astronomical Society to take seriously your new and controversial theory on quantum gravity, you are going to need to stay at the formal end of the spectrum.
  • If your giving a T.E.D. talk, people come to those to learn serious things in a fun way, so the formality will be mixed or in the middle of the spectrum.

In the end, you have to judge by your own experience with the audience you are addressing. My original answer above simply tells you that "bunch" is informal, and "good" is preferable when the needed style is not informal.

  • As mentioned by Mari-Lou A in the comments, "A bunch of mates plotted against King James I..." Is sloppy writing and not acceptable. However it is fine to say "John, Peter, Thomas are a great bunch of friends" in both formal and informal context in opinion. Which leads to the question what exactly is the reason one is preferred over another? – DarkDestry Sep 1 '14 at 5:55
  • I would disagree with the statement that the 'John, Peter, Thomas' example is fine for formal writing without seeing further explanation. – Canis Lupus Sep 1 '14 at 6:46
  • How about formal speech? I have asked in the question that both spoken and written context should be considered. – DarkDestry Sep 1 '14 at 7:13
  • There's confusion here. @DarkDestry I gave an example of ONE appropriate use of "bunch of friends" in: "John, Peter, Thomas are a great bunch of friends" , and one very inappropriate use with: "A bunch of mates plotted ...." This second example I would never write in a formal academic essay. The first example however is suitable when talking about one's friends, or retelling a story, if the writing is informal the term, "bunch", is OK. On the other hand, group will always be suitable, for whichever situation. – Mari-Lou A Sep 1 '14 at 17:46
  • @Mari-LouA Again with the writing. To clarify things. I acknowledge that it is not to be used in formal writing. I understand now. Here i ask again. How about when it is spoken. Such as in a formal speech. – DarkDestry Sep 1 '14 at 17:48

Group tends to imply that the individuals have something in common -- they know each other, they work at the same place, they're all Americans.

Bunch tends to imply that the individuals are being grouped together more arbitrarily.

That breaks down in informal use, but if you're trying to find a difference that's the best I can offer.

  • Good point. However, one cannot compare across formal-informal usage. – Kris Sep 1 '14 at 14:29
  • I agree with you. It's interesting to me how 'is' and 'are' are used with a bunch or a group. "A bunch of people are here." vs "A group of people is here." Like you said, a group implies one cohesive unit (singular), and a bunch implies an unspecified number of individuals (plural), It's similar to saying "Twenty people are here.", without being precise. The is/are distinction helps to reinforces the difference in meaning in my opinion. – YoeyYutch Jul 3 '16 at 20:32

Is it appropriate to write in an essay A bunch of people or A bunch of friends?

If your audience/teacher/professor says no, that is the answer.

In theory, if someone says, "A bunch", the reader might want to know "how many?"

Likely, you were corrected as per "a bunch of carrots" vs "a group of people". Colloquially, you'd probably say a bunch of people came through the train station (indicating a great multiple of individuals over a period of time) vs a group of people met for coffee (indicating a simultaneous gathering of individuals). Especially, any formal gathering of people is considered a group. Meanwhile, a large aggregate (countable) number of individuals could be a "bunch" but more appropriately, one might be asked to clarify the number of the individuals if a "bunch" were specified.

Why would it be not acceptable to use bunch of people in an essay? Probably for the same reason that one should use the term murder of crows or herd of cattle. A group would be the more proper term for the gathering of humans.

For reference, check out a non-authoritative list of animal group names.

The comment from OP in my other answer:

Again, i would appreciate if you would explain the difference if it were spoken. Would it be appropriate for me to use I have a bunch of friends supporting me on this project.?

If it were spoken, it probably won't matter whether one uses bunch or group. For written, graded, or recorded purposes, for posterity reasons, one will want to attempt to use more formal language, especially when requested.

  • The question of 'how many' isn't handled any better by either word choice. – Canis Lupus Sep 1 '14 at 2:42
  • @CanisLupus It's a bit more specific in my mind, but your comment stands. Group is as generic as possible for me, from two to some unfathomable number. A bunch is more than a few, but less than a ton ;) – user0721090601 Sep 1 '14 at 2:48
  • @CanisLupus I don't disagree, but quantification wasn't part of the question. I probably should leave it out. But the biggest problem with the OQ is who the audience is. "Is it okay to include the phrase a bunch of people in an essay?" Well, sure, but if the audience says it's not, then it's not. No random forum is going to be good enough to argue with the audience by way of the OP. – SrJoven Sep 1 '14 at 3:15
  • And how is "a bunch of people" different from that of a "group of people"? A group is an unspecified number, likewise a bunch does not tell us how many. The OP would like to know in which contexts he can either expression. – Mari-Lou A Sep 1 '14 at 4:32
  • @MaryLouA The very first comment of the OP is to ask the question quoted in my answer. The now edited request is not in relation to the original request by the OP. If the OP would like to ask "why is bunch of people not acceptable, then I don't mind answering that question. As it is, and as it continues to be the act of editing the question for clarification changes the nuance of the request. – SrJoven Sep 1 '14 at 13:37

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