English gives you lots of options for replacing the word group when you’re talking about people, animals, or things. And each of those equivalents brings a little twist of its own that’s well worth knowing, as this brief overview will show.
Bevy is a reasonably common way to refer to any decent-sized group, as in “the social committee was run by a bevy of busybodies.” It mainly designates groups of women—a Google search for “bevy of women,” “bevy of ladies,” and “bevy of beauties” turns up tens of thousands of hits for each. At the time of writing, however, it showed only 733 hits for “bevy of men” and a measly 93 for “bevy of gentlemen.” In traditional use, bevy is used for quail, as in a “bevy of quail,” or roe deer, as in a “bevy of roes.”
The first meaning of bushel is as a unit in the Imperial system of measurement, equivalent to four pecks or 0.036 cubic meters. In the plural it can be used for a large amount of anything. It’s popularly partnered with the words fun and money, as in “This game is bushels of fun” or “That man has bushels of money.”
The English covey is a direct descendent of the French word couvée and applies to a brood or flock of birds, but you can extend it to any group of people or any set of whatever you want.
Covey often has pejorative connotations and is most often attached to loud but otherwise impotent groups behaving like a brood of hungry chicks, as in “Our magazine explores the relationship between the artist’s work and the inevitable covey of critics and scholars who would rather judge a piece of art than simply enjoy it.” It can, however, be used with a certain affection: “He is a TV media star, always surrounded by a covey of adoring reporters.”
The word crush conjures up a picture of people or animals all piled on top of each other, with a hint of violence, as in “He faced a crush of autograph seekers.” Just the thought of it makes your chest feel tight—which is probably why it’s also used to describe infatuation: “He has a crush on his teacher.”
Flock is the ordinary word for a collection of sheep or goats as well as for birds, especially in flight. It’s a great way to describe large numbers of people on the move, as in “They came in flocks.” It’s also commonly used as a verb: “People flocked to the show.”
Herd is the equivalent of the French troupeau: a herd of elephants. Applied to people, it suggests a noisy, undifferentiated mass, as in “Herds of students filled the hallways between classes.”
Mob is used for rough and rowdy gatherings of people, often with violent tendencies, as in “The mob demanded his head.”
Any group of wild animals hunting together is called a pack, such as a “pack of foxes” or “pack of wolves.” Applied to people, pack generally designates an unfriendly, destructive clique, so it often appears with words like thief, liar, or scoundrel. You also see it with groups that act like a pack of animals: “A pack of big names is closing in on Havret and Fraser at the Scottish Open.”
The word phalanx designates a military formation used in ancient Greece, but it can be used for any ordered, close-packed group, as in “He was queried before a phalanx of television cameras” or “A phalanx of umbrellas greeted visitors to the restaurant.” The first syllable rhymes with day, bay, may, and say and the second with banks and thanks.
Platoon is another military term that can be applied to any group of people or people-like things seen as a set or team, as in “A platoon of waiters cleared the tables.”
Pride doesn’t get used much for groups, but you have to admit it’s a great word for a group that takes itself very seriously or shows off, as in “A pride of gaily dressed ladies surrounded the queen.” It’s also the group name used for lions, peacocks, and sometimes cats (“a pride of lions”).
Pronouncing the word throng is a nightmare for many native French-speakers, but it’s still a great word for enormous crowds of people, as in “Throngs of protestors took to the streets.” It also works as a verb, like flock: “People thronged the streets.”
English is particularly well endowed with collective nouns specific to particular animals, many of which are medieval hunting terms. Bevy, covey, flock, herd, pack, and pride are all from that tradition, and the following are also in common use:
- Pod for marine mammals, as in a “pod of orcas” or “pod of seals”
- School for fish, as in a “school of minnows”
- Swarm or cloud for insects, as in a “swarm of mosquitoes,” a “cloud of gnats”
- Litter for baby animals, as in a “litter of kittens”
- Brood for baby birds, as in a “brood of owlets”
- Skein for geese or ducks in flight, as in a “skein of geese”
- Gaggle, for geese or ducks on the water, as in a “gaggle of geese”
. . . along with dozens more, often-startlingly poetic, possibilities. If you’re interested, try searching “collective nouns” and “animals” online. You’ll find bushels, throngs, swarms, and perhaps even a pride or two of websites on the subject.