A discussion list poster said the word “spirit” was a collective noun, by power of the context. I couldn’t resist. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m coming in on the middle of the discussion. The bit about reading the word “spirit” as a collective noun caught my eye.

A noun is collective by the nature of the word, not by context. So the word “spirit” cannot be “singular” in one context and “collective” by another. (That’s like say that baptism can be immersion in one context and sprinking in another.) The meaning of collectiveness inheres in the word, and is not changed by the force of context.

So a “gaggle” of geese is always, by its very nature, a collective noun, in that it refers to a a group. Gaggle could never refer to one goose.

So the word spirit is not a collective noun, and, by definition of the term, never can be. If it were, it could only refer to a group of spirits and never a single one.

What do you think?

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