Is livestock a plural noun? Another blog post on grammar bulls–t

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Plural nouns can be confusing. Is livestock a plural noun? No bull, it can go either way. Read the following. A reader asks:

Is livestock a plural noun, as in: “Livestock [has/have] been important in serving humankind.”?

Livestock is a type of plural noun known as a collective noun. It represents a number of individuals. Collective nouns include such words as a murder of crows, a parliament of owls, an eloquence of lawyers, an army of soldiers, a troupe of baboons, and a gaggle of geese. Some of these are quite metaphorical, and others are simply descriptive. In most cases, collective nouns (groups of people and things) take a singular verb, but sometimes the take a plural verb if the individuals are to be emphasized.

Is livestock a plural noun?

The answer is…it depends.

  • Livestock has been important in serving humankind. (singular)
  • Livestock were trampling my vegetable garden so I chased them away. (plural) Even though my grammar algorithm flags “were” as incorrect, it makes no sense to write “Livestock was trampling my vegetable garden, so I chased them away.” This form mixes the singular “livestock” and the plural pronoun “them.” Even worse would be “Livestock was trampling my vegetable garden, so I chased it away.”

Other collective noun dilemmas: How many are enough?

We have a similar problem with collective nouns that represent quantities. Notice below, that when we name the type of item, the number becomes an adjective. The verb agrees with the noun.

  • Four is enough. (Is agrees with four, which is treated as a singular quantity.)
  • Four eggs are enough. (Are agrees with eggs, which is clearly plural.)
  • A dozen is enough. (Is agrees with dozen, which is treated as a singular quantity.()

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