Definition of nouns
Nouns are words that indicate a person, place, or thing. In a sentence, nouns can function as the subject or the object of a verb or preposition. Nouns can also follow linking verbs to rename or re-identify the subject of a sentence or clause; these are known as predicate nouns.
The subject in a sentence or clause is the person or thing doing, performing, or controlling the action of the verb. For example:
• “The dog chased its tail.” (The noun dog is performing the action of the verb chase.)
• “Mary reads a book every week.” (The proper noun Mary is performing the action of the verb read.)
Grammatical objects have three grammatical roles: the direct object of a verb, the indirect object of a verb, or the object of a preposition.
Direct objects are what receive the action of the verb in a sentence or clause. For example:
• “The dog chased its tail.” (The noun tail is receiving the action of the verb chase.)
• “Mary reads a book every week.” (The noun book is receiving the action of the verb read.)
An indirect object is the person or thing who receives the direct object of the verb. For
• “Please pass Jeremy the salt.” (The proper noun Jeremy is receiving the direct object salt, which receives the action of the verb pass.)
• “I sent the company an application for the job.” (The noun company is receiving the direct object application, which receives the action of the verb sent.)
Objects of prepositions
Nouns are also used after prepositions to create prepositional phrases. When a noun is part of a prepositional phrase, it is known as the object of the preposition. For example:
• “Your backpack is under the table.” (The noun table is the object of the preposition under, which creates the prepositional phrase under the table.)
• “I am looking for work.” (The noun work is the object of the preposition for, which creates the prepositional phrase for work.)
Nouns that follow linking verbs are known as predicate nouns (sometimes known as predicative nouns). These serve to rename or re-identify the subject. If the noun is accompanied by any direct modifiers (such as articles, adjectives, or prepositional phrases), the entire noun phrase acts predicatively.
• “Love is a virtue.” (The noun phrase a virtue follows the linking verb is to rename the subject love.)
• “Tommy seems like a real bully.” (The noun phrase a real bully follows the linking verb seems to rename the subject Tommy.)
• “Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.” (The noun phrase a blessing in disguise follows the linking verb is to rename the subject this.) (Go to the section on Subject Complements in the part of the guide that covers Syntax to
learn more about predicate nouns.)
Categories of Nouns
There are many different kinds of nouns, and it’s important to know the different way each type can be used in a sentence. Below, we’ll briefly look at the different categories of nouns. You can explore the individual sections to learn more about each.
Common and Proper Nouns
Nouns that identify general people, places, or things are called common nouns—they name or identify that which is common among others.
Proper nouns, on the other hand, are used to identify an absolutely unique person, place, or thing, and they are signified by capital letters, no matter where they appear in a sentence.
Nouns of Address
Nouns of address are used in direct speech to identify the person or group being directly spoken to, or to get that person’s attention. Like interjections, they are grammatically unrelated to the rest of the sentence—they don’t modify or affect any other part of it. For
• “James, I need you to help me with the dishes.”
• “Can I have some money, Mom?”
• “This, class, is the video I was telling you about.”
• “Sorry, Mr. President, I didn’t see you there.”
Concrete and Abstract Nouns
Concrete nouns name people, places, animals, or things that are physically tangible—that is, they can be seen or touched, or have some physical properties. Proper nouns are also usually concrete, as they describe unique people, places, or things that are also tangible. For example:
Abstract nouns, as their name implies, name intangible things, such as concepts, ideas, feelings, characteristics, attributes, etc. For instance:
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Countable nouns (also known as count nouns) are nouns that can be considered as individual, separable items, which means that we are able to count them with numbers—we can have one, two, five, 15, 100, and so on. We can also use them with the indefinite articles a and an (which signify a single person or thing) or with the plural form of the noun.
Collective nouns are nouns that refer to a collection or group of multiple people, animals, or things. However, even though collective nouns refer to multiple individuals, they still function as singular nouns in a sentence. This is because they still are technically referring to one thing: the group as a whole. For example:
• “The flock of birds flew south for the winter.”
• “The organization voted to revoke the rules that it had previously approved.”
• “The set of tablecloths had disappeared. ”
Attributive Nouns (Noun Adjuncts)
Attributive nouns, also called noun adjuncts, are nouns that are used to modify other
nouns. The resulting phrase is called a compound noun. For example:
• “The boy played with his toy soldier.”
In this sentence, toy is the noun adjunct, and it modifies the word soldier, creating the compound noun toy soldier.
To learn more about attributive nouns, go to the section on Adjuncts in the chapter on The Predicate.
A compound noun is a noun composed of two or more words working together as a single unit to name a person, place, or thing. Compound nouns are usually made up of two nouns or an adjective and a noun.
• water + bottle = water bottle (a bottle used for water)
• dining + room = dining room (a room used for dining)
• back + pack = backpack (a pack you wear on your back)
• police + man = policeman (a police officer who is a man)
A noun phrase is a group of two or more words that function together as a noun in a sentence. Noun phrases consist of a noun and other words that modify the noun. For example:
• “He brought the shovel with the blue handle.”
In this sentence, the shovel with the blue handle is a noun phrase. It collectively acts as a
noun while providing modifying words for the head noun, shovel. The modifiers are the and
with the blue handle.
Nominalization (Creating Nouns)
Nominalization refers to the creation of a noun from verbs or adjectives. When nouns are created from other parts of speech, it is usually through the use of suffixes. For example:
• “My fiancée is an actor.” (The verb act becomes the noun actor.)
• “His acceptance of the position was received warmly.” (The verb accept becomes the noun acceptance.)
• “The hardness of diamond makes it a great material for cutting tools.” (The adjective hard becomes the noun hardness.)
• “This project will be fraught with difficulty.” (The adjective difficult becomes the noun difficulty.)
- A noun can be which of the following?
a) The subject
b) An object
d) A & B
e) B & C
f) All of the above
- What category of nouns is used to identify the person or group being directly spoken to?
a) Common nouns
b) Nouns of address
c) Attributive nouns
d) Abstract nouns
- Identify the type of noun (in bold) used in the following sentence:
“Your indifference is not acceptable.”
a) Proper noun
b) Countable noun
c) Collective noun
d) Abstract noun
- What category of nouns is used to modify other nouns?
a) Common nouns
b) Nouns of address
c) Attributive nouns
d) Abstract nouns
- Which of the following is commonly used to create a noun from a verb or adjective?
c) Attributive noun
d) Predicative noun
Common and Proper Nouns
Nouns fall into one of two broad categories: common nouns and proper nouns.
All nouns serve to name a person, place, or thing. Those that identify general people, places, or things are called common nouns—they name that which is common among others. For example:
• “He sat on the chair.”
• “I live in a city.”
• “We met some people.”
• “She went into politics.”
• “Our teacher is angry.”
• “Let’s go down to the lake.”
Proper nouns, on the other hand, are used to identify a unique person, place, or thing. A proper noun names someone or something that is one of a kind, which is signified by the use of a capital letter, no matter where it appears in a sentence.
The most common proper nouns are names, as of people, places, or events. For example:
• “Go find Jeff and tell him dinner is ready.”
• “I lived in Cincinnati before I moved to New York.”
• “My parents still talk about how great Woodstock was in 1969.”
Proper nouns are also used for commercial brands. In this case, the object that’s being referred to is not unique in itself, but the brand it belongs to is. For example:
• “Pass me the Hellmann’s mayonnaise.”
• “I’ll have a Pepsi, please.”
• “My new MacBook is incredibly fast.”
When a person has additional words added to his or her name (known as an appellation), this becomes part of the proper noun and is also capitalized. (Some linguists distinguish these as proper names, rather than proper nouns.) For example:
• “Prince William is adored by many.”
• “Italy was invaded by Attila the Hun in 452.”
Job Titles and Familial Roles
Many times, a person may be referred to according to a professional title or familial role instead of by name. In this case, the title is being used as a noun of address and is considered a proper noun, even if it would be a common noun in other circumstances. For example:
• “How are you doing, Coach?”
• “I need your advice, Mr. President.”
• “Mom, can you come with me to the playground?”
• “Pleased to meet you, Doctor.”