What is the difference between words like flock, platoon, swarm, throng, and gang?

Many of them are applied to groups of specific people or animals, but they are also used in other cases. Swarm can mean a large number of people or things, so can I use swarm (or gang) in this sentence?

She got lost in the throng.

If I look at swarming I mostly see animals (insects) mentioned but it also mentions sailors swarming the ship's deck.

So in a sentence like:

People have been flocking to the exhibition.

Can I use swarming instead of flocking? Or other similar verbs?

Are they synonyms or not?

  • 2
    Welcome to ELL.SE. The words all describe groups, but are not interchangeable. What dictionaries or other sources have you consulted thus far? This site expects you to demonstrate that you have attempted to find the answer yourself, for instance, by looking up dictionary definitions.
    – choster
    Jul 21, 2014 at 13:37

1 Answer 1


All of these words describe a group of organisms, but each also has a different association that will change the meaning of your sentence if you use them.

A "flock" is a group of birds, especially a group of birds in flight. When used of people, it is used metaphorically, to say that the people are behaving, in some way, like birds.

When people "flock" to an exhibition, they are behaving like birds do when they travel in flocks; you often see birds arriving at one place and filling it quickly. When people "flock" to a museum, it means that people are arriving in large numbers.

A "swarm" is a group of insects, especially flying insects such as honeybees. When used to describe people, it means that the people are behaving, in some way, like insects. Where a flock of birds might arrive and depart quickly, a swarm of bees is in constant motion. For example, paparazzi might swarm around a celebrity.

A "throng" is a dense group or crowd of people. If people are "thronging" to a place, or a place is "thronged" with people, it implies that the place is crowded, that there is little room to move.

"Gang" and "platoon" are more specialized words, used to describe specialized groups of people. A "gang" is a group organized by internal ties. A crowd probably doesn't know each other; a gang does. A "platoon" is a specific subdivision of an army; a platoon is almost always made up of soldiers. These two can't be used interchangeably with "swarm" or "throng" or "swarm."

Here is an example of how you might use all of these words:

That morning, the townspeople flocked to the church for Melinda's wedding. Since early in the morning, Melinda had been surrounded by a swarm of hairdressers, dressmakers, and attendants. By noon, the crowd around the church was so thick that the limousine had trouble getting through the throng. Melinda and her gang of bridesmaids had to get out and walk through a narrow pathway that had been cleared by a platoon of soldiers.

  • typo warning: "throng" is a group of people. "thong" is a type of undergarment.
    – paul
    Jul 24, 2014 at 13:09

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