Nouns

In terms of meaning, nouns are sometimes described as ‘naming words’ – words for people, animals and things. The noun class does include many words of this kind: brother, baby, rabbit, horse, handbag, chair. These all refer to physical beings or objects – they are concrete nouns. But there are also many abstract nouns – nouns with abstract (non-material) meanings, like pleasure, sight, kindness.

To identify nouns we need to look beyond meaning, at grammatical behaviour – the forms of words, and the ways they combine with other words.

There are some typical features which can help us identify a word as a noun.

Typically, we can change the form to make it plural (more than one). This is usually done by adding an -s or -es:

We can generally make it possessive by adding -’s:

Typically, we can put the, a or an in front of it:

As well as this, many nouns have recognisable suffixes (endings):

These grammatical behaviours can help us identify typical nouns. There are also some special kinds of nouns which behave a little differently. For example, proper nouns are a special class of nouns which refer to specific people, places or organisations. They are capitalised (i.e. given a capital letter to begin with), as in these examples:

Certain grammatical differences can often be observed between common and proper nouns. Proper nouns usually refer to someone or something unique, so they are less likely to be pluralised than common nouns. It’s quite rare to see proper nouns turned into plurals but it can happen in certain cases, for example:

The speakers here are referring to many different people called Julian and to Sundays in general, rather than to one particular person or day.

Unlike common nouns, proper names are not normally preceded by the determiners a/an. This is, again, because they usually refer to someone or something unique. We wouldn’t normally say a Sally or a Japan or a Manchester United. There are sometimes exceptions:

Here the speaker means ‘any Saturday’ rather than a particular one.

All other nouns (those which don’t belong to the special class of proper nouns) are called common nouns. We saw many examples of these above: chair, soldier, car, criticism, and so on.

There are further distinctions that can be made between types of nouns. One of these is the difference between count and non-count nouns.

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!

Nouns: Count and non-count

Common nouns are either count or non-count. Count nouns can be ‘counted’, as follows:

one pen, two pens, three pens, four pens...

Non-count nouns, on the other hand, cannot be counted in this way:

*one software, *two softwares, *three softwares, *four softwares...

From a grammatical point of view, this means that count nouns have singular as well as plural forms, whereas non-count nouns have only a singular form.

It also means that non-count nouns do not take a/an before them:

Count

Non-count

a pen

*a software

In general, non-count nouns are considered to refer to indivisible wholes. For this reason, they are sometimes called mass nouns.

Some common nouns may be either count or non-count, depending on the kind of reference they have. For example, in I made a cake, cake is a count noun, and the a before it indicates singular number. However, in I like cake, the reference is less specific. It refers to ‘cake in general’, and so cake is non-count in this sentence.

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!

Nouns: Concrete and abstract

Strictly speaking, the distinction between concrete noun and abstract noun is not really a matter of grammar, but of semantics. In other words, the decision to label a noun as concrete or abstract is more to do with the word’s meaning than its grammatical form or function.

There is very little, if any, grammatical difference between the ways in which abstract and concrete nouns operate.

However, we are including these categories here because so many English courses make reference to them and because they can help to make sense of meaning in some texts.

How are these categories defined?

Of course, these are often rather subjective judgements which could be argued about. Does concrete mean tangible? Are sounds concrete? Is light concrete? We can see it, and it appears to be ‘out there’, but does it actually occupy physical space? Linguists disagree about these categories. The important thing is to be aware of the difficulties. 

Full Preview

This is a full preview of this page. You can view one page a day like this without registering. But if you wish to use it in your classroom, please register your details on Englicious (for free) and then log in!