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All dictionaries I have checked list the term wildlife as an uncountable noun. But there are plenty of examples that treat wildlife as a plural. Indeed, Google returns around one million search results for the phrase "wildlife that is," much fewer than the over 2.7 million for "wildlife that are."

I've found it difficult to wrap my head around this word: Is this an uncountable noun as the dictionaries say or can this be sometimes treated as a collective noun that can represent a plural?

Why do the mainstream dictionaries all proclaim wildlife as an uncountable noun while people frequently treat it as a plural?

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    It seems an obvious mistake to make: there is often confusion between whether to use singular or plural with collective nouns, and confusion over what nouns count as collective nouns (e.g. company is a collective noun, but what about firm or business? Organisation, club, society?). And different dialects have different rules about collective nouns (particularly US vs UK English). Since wildlife generally refers to multiple animals, it's natural to suspect it might take a plural. Follow what dictionaries say in formal writing, but be understanding of people's mistakes.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 13, 2021 at 10:10
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    Why don't the dictionaries catch every single nuance of usage that English native speakers make? Because they only have a limited number of resources available, and they generally copy each other, so once one dictionary has made a mistake the others also make the same mistake. Ignore the dictionaries — there's nothing wrong with using a plural verb with wildlife. Commented May 13, 2021 at 11:09
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    This looks like it is a usage in flux. Some people will say that plural agreement is acceptable, while some will say that it is increasingly seen but still unacceptable. Be aware that both schools exist, and that there will be people trying to say that their school alone is correct. Make sure that you know your prof's / editor's attitude here. If you're writing for a general audience, be prepared for disapproval if you choose a less traditional usage. You can always reword. Commented May 13, 2021 at 11:38
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    Check your definition of collective noun. “I do not think it means what you think it means.”
    – Jim
    Commented May 13, 2021 at 20:25
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    The question you're asking can be asked of any word. "Why do people say ungrammatical things?" There are many reasons, but there's nothing particular to wildlife. As another reference point, I've never heard anyone say wildlife are, so this looks like it varies by region. Commented May 14, 2021 at 19:54

3 Answers 3

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+50

Here's an answer from another site:

Well, actually this is a little more complicated than it first seems, because "wildlife" is different from "life."

"Wildlife" is what is known as a collective noun, meaning there is more than one member. "Family" is a similar, collective noun.

Most of the time, collective nouns are treated as singular:

"The family is eating dinner." Most of the time, a family is considered a unit, with much more in common than otherwise, and thus treated as a unitary noun.

Sometimes, collective nouns are treated as plurals:

"The family are fighting over Uncle John's will."

In this case, the predominant consideration is for the members as individuals and what they are doing as individuals.

"The crew is bringing the ship into port." "The crew are bringing the ship into port." This is a trickier case, and neither use (plural v. singular) is incorrect. If one is considering the crew as a team and the team actions to be coordinated, and if that is what one focuses on, then "is" would be correct.

If, on the other hand, one focuses on the individual tasks of the crew members and consider that some are concerned with the ship itself, some with passengers and baggage, and conceivably some with freight, then "are" would be correct.

"Wildlife," itself, may be used either way:

Wildlife is in danger from climate change. (Thinking of the whole, experiencing the same threat.)

The wildlife of the area are beautiful. (Thinking of each specie [sic] as its own object of beauty.)

Or even:

As the climate of the area changes, the wildlife are adjusting, and some species may go extinct, while others increase.

By RuthP

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    What's this about specie now? That's a money thing.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 4:02
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    What do you think about the fact that all the major dictionaries define "wildlife" as an uncountable noun, not a collective noun? In fact, if "wildlife" were defined as a collective noun, I would have no problem with comprehending this word in the first place.
    – user48754
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 7:01
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    I don't think "collective noun" is a label dictionaries use even for collective nouns. I would look at grammar books instead of dictionaries to see if a noun is a collective noun. "Wildlife" is peculiar in that it is a mass noun consisting of individuals (i.e., animals), when prototypical collective nouns (e.g., family, crew, etc.) are all count nouns. But it's clear that it does denote collectivity: it's defined as "Wild animals collectively" at lexico.com/definition/wildlife
    – JK2
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 12:47
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    ' "Wildlife" is what is known as a collective noun, meaning there is more than one member ' is so misleading that I feel it shouldn't be perpetuated. Commented May 20, 2021 at 18:22
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    Perhaps the most typical occurrences of collective nouns are in the 'a set/group of ...' phrases. 'A pride of lions.' 'A pack of cards.' 'Three families of badgers.' These are count usages. Yes, what are arguably collective noun usages without the of-phrase exist: 'My family have all had Covid.' 'The jury were arguing among themselves.' But note that these are again count usages: ''Those five families all live near the forest.' 'The three juries all failed to bring in guilty verdicts.' But 'We see a wildlife of animals'? 'Two wildlifes that coexist are ,,,'? No. 'Wildlife', like 'fauna', ... Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 12:28
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All dictionaries I have checked list the term wildlife as an uncountable noun. But there are plenty of examples that treat wildlife as a plural.

I've found it difficult to wrap my head around this word: Is this an uncountable noun as the dictionaries say or can this be sometimes treated as a collective mass noun that can represent a plural?

Wildlife is a mass noun – broadly, it encompasses a group that shares the homogenous characteristics of moving and being alive and wild. As such, it is uncountable, i.e. it doesn’t have a plural form; it can’t be qualified by a number, and its quantifier is “much”, not “many.”

Does it take a plural verb?

Consider: 1 “The team is playing well.”

2 “The team are playing well.”

In British English, both are correct and have different nuances:

In 1, we have “The team, considered as a single unit, is playing well.” -> It is playing well.

In 2, we have “The team, considered as 11 individual players, are playing well”, i.e. the players of the team are playing well.” -> They are playing well.

Now:

3 “The wildlife in the area is suffering” -> this is the preferred version as "wildlife" (unlike "team") is uncountable.

4 “The wildlife in the area are suffering” -> this is often incorrectly used by speakers of British English based upon the "team" example above. However, it does not sound "awful" and would normally be overlooked.

In 3, “The wildlife” is considered as a single whole unit, and is suffering” -> It is suffering

In 4, “The wildlife” is considered as individual animals/birds/insects, etc. -> They are suffering.

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Well, it's not countable but here are some examples about your argument. You said "wildlife that are": Examples of "wildlife that are".

Even if this returns something, they are mostly grouped with something else, so wildlife itself still is not plural.

Comparison if it helps: Comparison between "wildlife that is" and "wildlife that are".

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    There are some lousy examples here given in trying to prove “wildlife” to not be a collective noun. The evidence in lengusa.com/sentence-examples/… is all wrong, since the subject of the sentence in every case isn’t even the word “wildlife!” For instance, in the sentence "Our results represent the first evidence that numerous species of wildlife are now abundant . . .” the words “are now abundant” are referring to “species,” NOT “wildlife!” That “lengusa” is misrepresenting their examples. And in doing so, they fail to prove their point.
    – Charles
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 13:48

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