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Table of Contents

Nouns are one of the 9 Parts of Speech shown here in the list.

  1. Noun
  2. Pronoun
  3. Adjective
  4. Preposition
  5. Verb
  6. Adverb
  7. Determiners
  8. Conjunctions
  9. Interjections

Definition of a Noun

A noun is a word that represents a person, place, thing, or idea.

A noun names someone or something that can function as a subject, object, complement, and appositive. It’s the word we use for something that lets us talk about it. You can see the examples given below.

Types of Noun

Common vs. Proper Noun

  1. Person” might be a girl.
  2. Place” might be a house.
  3. “The thing” might be a pear.
  4. An “idea” might be bravery.

Common Nouns

“A person” might be a man, an emperor, or a fireman. “The place” might be a city, an office, or a mountain. The word “thing” covers everything else such as an object, like an ax, or an animal, like a tortoise, or an idea, like bravery. All of those other things you can see and touch, but the idea you can’t, but you still need a word to be able to talk about it. Now, all of the words in red are common nouns. Notice that they’re all written with a lowercase letter.

Examples of Common Noun
Examples of Common Noun

Proper Nouns

There is another type of noun and it’s a Proper noun. Here’s an example. You might recognize this man as the inventor Thomas Edison, or this emperor as Julius Caesar and this fireman might be called Sam. So, these words in bold are proper nouns, and they’re the given names, usually personal names or titles, to make the word more specific.

  • So, this city is Berlin.
  • This office block might be called The Lego Tower.
  • This is an icon of Mount Fuji in Japan.
  • This axe could be called Old Faithful.
  • Or this tortoise might be called Speedy.

Now, these, concepts, these ideas like bravery, equality, and kindness, tend not to have associated with proper nouns, but you can. So, theory, for example, a proper noun is the Theory of Relativity and we write it with capital letters. So, notice that the proper nouns have capital letters, the ones in bold are proper nouns. That’s two different categories of nouns.

Examples of Proper Nouns
Examples of Proper Nouns

Abstract vs. Concrete Nouns

There are other types of nouns. We can further classify a noun depending on what it means or how it is structured. For example, a noun can be an abstract noun and that’s something you cannot see or touch. Simply, it does not come in the range of our five senses. Remember, we had bravery, we had kindness, we had equality. Or a concrete noun, that’s the opposite of an abstract noun. That’s something you can see or touch or perceive with one of your five senses. For example, ball and bat are concrete nouns whereas love and care are abstract nouns.

Collective and Compound Nouns

There are collective nouns and these represent groups of things. For example, class, team, police, and army are collective nouns that represent their whole class. On the other hand, there are compound nouns and this is all about the structure of the word. It’s how the words are made up. If they’re made up of two or more words, then it’s a compound noun. For example, whiteboard, notebook, classroom, etc.

Countable vs. Uncountable Nouns

A countable noun, something you can count, in other words, something that has a plural form. For example, pen/pens, table/tables, book/books etc. Non-countable nouns, cannot be counted, the opposite, has no plural form, like the words bravery, milk, flour, etc. are uncountable nouns.

Masculine vs. Feminine Nouns

And you have gender-specific nouns and these are things that are specifically male or female. For example, man/woman, horse/mare, dog/bitch, king/queen, etc.

Analysis of Nouns

So, let’s look at the word “mountain”

Well, it’s not an abstract noun. You can see a mountain. That means it must be a concrete noun. It’s not a collective noun. It doesn’t represent a group of things. It’s not made up of two or more words and it does have a plural form making it a countable noun. That means it can’t be a non-countable noun and it’s not gender-specific. So, the word “mountain” is a common noun because we know it’s not a proper noun. It’s also a concrete noun and a countable noun.

So, now let’s look at “bravery.”

Well, you can’t see or touch it so it’s an abstract noun. That means it can’t be a concrete noun. It doesn’t represent a group of things and it’s not made up of two or more words. It doesn’t have a plural form, which means it must be a non-countable noun, and it’s not gender-specific. So, the word “bravery” is a common noun. It’s also an abstract noun and a non-countable noun.

Let’s look at “firemen.”

Well, you can see firemen, so that makes it a concrete noun. It’s not a collective noun, it’s not a group of things, but it is a compound noun. Because it’s coming from two or more words. It’s made up of “fire” and “man.”. It is a countable noun because, it has a plural form, firemen, which means it can’t be a non-countable noun. And it is gender-specific a fireman is always a male. You can have a firewoman or a firefighter for the neutral version. Another example of a compound noun: “Water bottle”. That’s coming up of two words. Notice this time it’s two separate words. And this, ice-ax, this time, it’s two separate words but they’re hyphenated. So, the fireman is called a closed compound noun, the water bottle is called an open compound noun, and the ice ax is called a hyphenated compound noun.

Let’s throw the word “team” up.

Well, it’s not an abstract noun, you can see it, so it’s a concrete noun. Now, this time, it is a collective noun because it represents a group of things like a group of players, for example. It’s not a compound noun. It is a countable noun; you can have teams. That means it can’t be a non-countable noun and it’s not gender-specific. So, these nouns can be further classified as one of those types of nouns.

Nouns as Gerunds

And, a noun can be a gerund and that’s a noun comes from a verb and it ends –“ing”. For example, “developing” from the verb “to develop.” And you can have a verbal noun and that’s also becoming of a verb but it has no verb-like traits like a gerund does, for example, “development,” also from the verb “to develop.”

Let’s go back to our three original nouns: girl, house, and pear.

What is a Noun Phrase?

Now, nouns usually appear in noun phrases, so in a sentence, you wouldn’t normally see the word “girl” by itself. You’d probably see it in a noun phrase: a happy girl. So, here we have two modifiers “a” and “happy“, but we still have our head noun “girl” so that’s a noun phrase. And the word “house” wouldn’t appear by itself usually. It might be something like “the house in the corner.” That’s another noun phrase. It’s modified by the word “the” and the prepositional phrase “in the corner” tells us which house. And the word pear might appear in a phrase something like two juicy pears. So, nouns usually appear in noun phrases.

Functions of Nouns as Subjects, Objects, Complements and Appositive

Examples of Nouns
Examples of Nouns

Noun as a Subject

The other thing we need to talk about is how nouns function. And a noun can function as a subject of a sentence. So, let’s take the noun phrase “the house in the corner“. “The house in the corner is for sale”. Here, the noun phrase is the subject of that verb. The verb to be: is.

Noun as a direct and indirect object

A noun can function as a direct and indirect object. So, let’s take the two juicy pears as examples. “Give us two juicy pears.” Well, “Give” is our verb, and “two juicy pears” is the direct object of that verb. If we say, “Give two juicy pears to us”, ‘Two juicy pears’ is a direct object.(What is being given) and us is the indirect object (who the two juicy pears are being given to).

Noun as cpomplement

A noun can function as a compliment. So, let’s take “a happy girl.” “Rachel is a happy girl.” Here, we have Rachel, which is a proper noun, as the subject. “Is” is the verb and the subject complement is “a happy girl.” It’s a noun phrase.

Appositive Nouns

An appositive noun is a kind of noun that comes along with another noun immediately to support and identify the following noun. For example, “The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam was the great leader. Here, Quaid-e-Azam is an appositive noun.

Recap of Nouns

Nouns can function as subjects, objects, or complements. So, remember, a noun is a word for a person place, or thing, and an idea. It’s the word that lets us talk about that thing. You can have common nouns with lowercase letters (unless it starts a sentence) and proper nouns with uppercase letters. And this is the main point, do NOT give your common nouns capital letters just because they’re important words in your sentence. And that is the point I want to end on. Hopefully, now you’ve got a feel for what nouns are.

By Waqas Sharif

Mr. Waqas Sharif is an English Language Teaching (ELT) Professional, Trainer, and Course Instructor at a Public Sector Institute. He has more than ten years of Eng Language Teaching experience at the Graduate and Postgraduate level. His main interest is found in facilitating his students globally He wishes them to develop academic skills like Reading, Writing, and Communication mastery along with Basics of Functional Grammar, English Language, and Linguistics.

4 thoughts on “What are Nouns?”
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