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Piece words and group words

from English Grammar Today

Piece words

Piece words make it possible to talk about a single unit or units of something which is seen as uncountable. Piece words include words such as piece, bit, item, article. We normally use them with of. We can use them in the singular or the plural.

Compare

uncountable noun

uncountable use

with a piece word

information

We need information about trains to Moscow.

She told me an interesting piece of information.

news

Do you have any news for us?

He told me a bit of news that shocked me.

furniture

We’re going to buy new furniture.

Two items of furniture were sold for more than £50,000 at the sale.

clothing

The workers all wore protective clothing.

The police found an article of clothing and some money.

The piece words combine (collocate) with nouns in different ways. Here are the most common combinations. The piece words are arranged from the least formal (bit) to the most formal (article).

piece word

common combinations

least formal

most formal

bit of

fun, luck, time, work, paper, information, bread, money, news, gossip

piece of

paper, software, information, work, writing, furniture, wood, equipment, music, cloth, land

item of

clothing, equipment, furniture, food, information, interest, business, jewellery, news

article of

furniture, clothing (article is the least common piece word and is rather formal. It combines mostly with these two nouns).

This is a new piece of equipment which helps rescuers find earthquake victims trapped in buildings.

Not: … a new equipment

I had a bit of luck the other day – an old friend offered me a job!

Not: I had a luck

Three items of jewellery were stolen from Miss Hart’s dressing-room.

Every article of clothing must be marked with the child’s name.

There are also more specific piece words which combine with particular nouns:

a drop of water, a drop of milk, a slice of bread, a loaf of bread, a bar of chocolate, a bar of soap, a pinch of salt

You will find these and more examples in a good learner’s dictionary.

Group words

Group words (sometimes called collective nouns) are nouns which refer to groups of people, animals or things. There are special group words for particular combinations of people, animals and things:

group word

common combinations

bunch

flowers (and types of flowers such as roses, tulips), grapes, cherries (and other similar fruit), keys

crowd

people, onlookers, admirers, protesters, shoppers

flock

sheep, birds (and types of birds such as pigeons, geese)

gang

workers, kids, youths, teenagers, thieves, criminals

group

(can be used with most nouns)

herd

sheep, cattle, cows, goats (and similar animals)

pack

wolves, dogs, hyenas, cards, lies

set

glasses, cups, plates, keys, tools (and other objects which form a group because they share the same features), rules, standards

shoal

fish (and types of fish such as herring, cod)

swarm

bees, flies, ants (and other insects)

team

scientists, researchers, experts, designers, detectives

Group words take a singular verb when they are used in the singular, and a plural verb when they are used in the plural:

A team of experts was called in to investigate the problem.

There was a flock of about 30 sheep in the field.

Gangs of youths were fighting one another in the streets.

There were swarms of flies everywhere.

Sometimes, singular group words are followed by a plural verb, but some people may consider this to be incorrect:

The committee produced a set of rules that were intended to prevent people from abusing the system. (or a set of rules that was intended …)

I found a bunch of keys on the floor. Are they yours?

(“Piece words and group words” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press. Need grammar practice? Try English Grammar Today with Workbook.)
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