A noun is a word used to name a person, animal, place, thing, and abstract idea. Nouns are usually the first words which small children learn. The highlighted words in the following sentences are all nouns:
Late last year our neighbours bought a goat.Portia White was an opera singer.The bus inspector looked at all the passengers’ passes.According to Plutarch, the library at Alexandria was destroyed in 48 B.C.Philosophy is of little comfort to the starving.
A noun can function in a sentence as a subject, a direct object, an indirect object, a subject complement, an object complement, an appositive, an adjective or an adverb.
Many common nouns, like “engineer” or “teacher,” can refer to men or women. Once, many English nouns would change form depending on their gender – for example, a man was called an “author” while a woman was called an “authoress” – but this use of gender-specific nouns is very rare today. Those that are still used occasionally tend to refer to occupational categories, as in the following sentences.
David Garrick was a very prominent eighteenth-century actor.Sarah Siddons was at the height of her career as an actress in the 1780s.The manager was trying to write a want ad, but he couldn’t decide whether he was advertising for a “waiter” or a “waitress”Noun Plurals
Most nouns change their form to indicate number by adding “-s” or “-es”, as illustrated in the following pairs of sentences:
When Matthew was small he rarely told the truth if he thought he was going to be punished.Many people do not believe that truths are self-evident.As they walked through the silent house, they were startled by an unexpected echo.I like to shout into the quarry and listen to the echoes that return.He tripped over a box left carelessly in the hallway.Since we are moving, we will need many boxes.
There are other nouns which form the plural by changing the last letter before adding “s”. Some words ending in “f” form the plural by deleting “f” and adding “ves,” and words ending in “y” form the plural by deleting the “y” and adding “ies,” as in the following pairs of sentences:
The harbour at Marble Mountain has one wharf.There are several wharves in Halifax Harbour.Warsaw is their favourite city because it reminds them of their courtship.The vacation my grandparents won includes trips to twelve European cities.The children circled around the headmaster and shouted, “Are you a mouse or a man?”The audience was shocked when all five men admitted that they were afraid of mice.
Other nouns form the plural irregularly. If English is your first language, you probably know most of these already: when in doubt, consult a good dictionary.
In the possessive case, a noun or pronoun changes its form to show that it owns or is closely related to something else. Usually, nouns become possessive by adding a combination of an apostrophe and the letter “s.”
You can form the possessive case of a singular noun that does not end in “s” by adding an apostrophe and “s,” as in the following sentences:
The red suitcase is Cassandra’s.The only luggage that was lost was the prime minister’s.The exhausted recruits were woken before dawn by the drill sergeant’s screams.The miner’s face was covered in coal dust.
You can form the possessive case of a singular noun that ends in “s” by adding an apostrophe alone or by adding an apostrophe and “s,” as in the following examples:
The bus’s seats are very uncomfortable.The bus’ seats are very uncomfortable.The film crew accidentally crushed the platypus’s eggs.The film crew accidentally crushed the platypus’ eggs.Felicia Hemans’s poetry was once more popular than Lord Byron’s.Felicia Hemans’ poetry was once more popular than Lord Byron’s.
You can form the possessive case of a plural noun that does not end in “s” by adding an apostrophe and a “s,” as in the following examples:
The children’s mittens were scattered on the floor of the porch.The sheep’s pen was mucked out every day.Since we have a complex appeal process, a jury’s verdict is not always final.The men’s hockey team will be playing as soon as the women’s team is finished.The hunter followed the moose’s trail all morning but lost it in the afternoon.
You can form the possessive case of a plural noun that does end in “s” by adding an apostrophe:
The concert was interrupted by the dogs’ barking, the ducks’ quacking, and the babies’ squalling.The janitors’ room is downstairs and to the left.My uncle spent many hours trying to locate the squirrels’ nest.The archivist quickly finished repairing the diaries’ bindings.Religion is usually the subject of the roommates’ many late night debates.Using Possessive Nouns
When you read the following sentences, you will notice that a noun in the possessive case frequently functions as an adjective modifying another noun:
The miner’s face was covered in coal dust.
Here the possessive noun “miner’s” is used to modify the noun “face” and together with the article “the,” they make up the noun phrase that is the sentence’s subject.
The concert was interrupted by the dogs’ barking, the ducks’ quacking, and the babies’ squalling.
In this sentence, each possessive noun modifies a gerund. The possessive noun “dogs”‘ modifies “barking,” “ducks”‘ modifies “quacking,” and “babies”‘ modifies “squalling.”
The film crew accidentally crushed the platypus’s eggs.
In this example the possessive noun “platypus’s” modifies the noun “eggs” and the noun phrase “the platypus’s eggs” is the direct object of the verb “crushed.”
My uncle spent many hours trying to locate the squirrels’ nest.
In this sentence the possessive noun “squirrels”‘ is used to modify the noun “nest” and the noun phrase “the squirrels’ nest” is the object of the infinitive phrase “to locate.”
Types Of Nouns
There are many different types of nouns. As you know, you capitalise some nouns, such as “Canada” or “Louise,” and do not capitalise others, such as “badger” or “tree” (unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence). In fact, grammarians have developed a whole series of noun types, including the proper noun, the common noun, the concrete noun, the abstract noun, the countable noun (also called the count noun), the non-countable noun (also called the mass noun), and the collective noun. You should note that a noun will belong to more than one type: it will be proper or common, abstract or concrete, and countable or non-countable or collective.
If you are interested in the details of these different types, you can read about them in the following sections.
You always write a proper noun with a capital letter, since the noun represents the name of a specific person, place, or thing. The names of days of the week, months, historical documents, institutions, organisations, religions, their holy texts and their adherents are proper nouns. A proper noun is the opposite of a common noun
In each of the following sentences, the proper nouns are highlighted:
The Marroons were transported from Jamaica and forced to build the fortifications in Halifax.Many people dread Monday mornings.Beltane is celebrated on the first of May.Abraham appears in the Talmud and in the Koran.Last year, I had a Baptist, a Buddhist, and a Gardnerian Witch as roommates.Common Nouns
A common noun is a noun referring to a person, place, or thing in a general sense – usually, you should write it with a capital letter only when it begins a sentence. A common noun is the opposite of a proper noun.
In each of the following sentences, the common nouns are highlighted:
According to the sign, the nearest town is 60 miles away.All the gardens in the neighbourhood were invaded by beetles this summer.I don’t understand why some people insist on having six different kinds of mustard in their cupboards.The road crew was startled by the sight of three large moose crossing the road.Many child-care workers are underpaid.
Sometimes you will make proper nouns out of common nouns, as in the following examples:
The tenants in the Garnet Apartments are appealing the large and sudden increase in their rent.The meals in the Bouncing Bean Restaurant are less expensive than meals in ordinary restaurants.Many witches refer to the Renaissance as the Burning Times.The Diary of Anne Frank is often a child’s first introduction to the history of the Holocaust.Concrete Nouns
A concrete noun is a noun which names anything (or anyone) that you can perceive through your physical senses: touch, sight, taste, hearing, or smell. A concrete noun is the opposite of a abstract noun.
The highlighted words in the following sentences are all concrete nouns:
The judge handed the files to the clerk.Whenever they take the dog to the beach, it spends hours chasing waves.The real estate agent urged the couple to buy the second house because it had new shingles.As the car drove past the park, the thump of a disco tune overwhelmed the string quartet’s rendition of a minuet.The book binder replaced the flimsy paper cover with a sturdy, cloth-covered board.Abstract Nouns
An abstract noun is a noun which names anything which you can not perceive through your five physical senses, and is the opposite of a concrete noun. The highlighted words in the following sentences are all abstract nouns:
Buying the fire extinguisher was an afterthought.Tillie is amused by people who are nostalgic about childhood.Justice often seems to slip out of our grasp.Some scientists believe that schizophrenia is transmitted genetically.Countable Nouns
A countable noun (or count noun) is a noun with both a singular and a plural form, and it names anything (or anyone) that you can count. You can make a countable noun plural and attach it to a plural verb in a sentence. Countable nouns are the opposite of non-countable nouns and collective nouns.
In each of the following sentences, the highlighted words are countable nouns:
We painted the table red and the chairs blue.Since he inherited his aunt’s library, Jerome spends every weekend indexing his books.Miriam found six silver dollars in the toe of a sock.The oak tree lost three branches in the hurricane.Over the course of twenty-seven years, Martha Ballad delivered just over eight hundred babies.Non-Countable Nouns
A non-countable noun (or mass noun) is a noun which does not have a plural form, and which refers to something that you could (or would) not usually count. A non-countable noun always takes a singular verb in a sentence. Non-countable nouns are similar to collective nouns, and are the opposite of countable nouns.
The highlighted words in the following sentences are non-countable nouns:
Joseph Priestly discovered oxygen.
The word “oxygen” cannot normally be made plural.
Oxygen is essential to human life.
Since “oxygen” is a non-countable noun, it takes the singular verb “is” rather than the plural verb “are.”
We decided to sell the furniture rather than take it with us when we moved.
You cannot make the noun “furniture” plural.
The furniture is heaped in the middle of the room.
Since “furniture” is a non-countable noun, it takes a singular verb, “is heaped.”
The crew spread the gravel over the roadbed.
You cannot make the non-countable noun “gravel” plural.
Gravel is more expensive than I thought.
Since “gravel” is a non-countable noun, it takes the singular verb form “is.”
A collective noun is a noun naming a group of things, animals, or persons. You could count the individual members of the group, but you usually think of the group as a whole is generally as one unit. You need to be able to recognise collective nouns in order to maintain subject-verb agreement. A collective noun is similar to a non-countable noun, and is roughly the opposite of a countable noun.
In each of the following sentences, the highlighted word is a collective noun:
The flock of geese spends most of its time in the pasture.
The collective noun “flock” takes the singular verb “spends.”
The jury is dining on take-out chicken tonight.
In this example the collective noun “jury” is the subject of the singular compound verb “is dining.”
The steering committee meets every Wednesday afternoon.
Here the collective noun “committee” takes a singular verb, “meets.”
The class was startled by the bursting light bulb.
In this sentence the word “class” is a collective noun and takes the singular compound verb “was startled.”
Written by Heather MacFadyen