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A noun is a word that identifies a person, place, thing, idea, or concept . Nouns are often called 'naming words' because they 'name' a thing, whether it's a 'dog', 'Paris', 'David Beckham' or tricky concepts like 'algebra'.
Nouns are one of the four main word classes and they are the most common type of word in the English language. In this article, we will cover the most common types of nouns. These include:
In the English language, there are two main types of noun. These are called 'common nouns' and 'proper nouns'. As suggested in the name, most nouns are common nouns.
A proper noun is used to refer to a unique person, place, or thing. This may include famous people, countries, brands, as well as organizations, TV programs and so on. Take a look at some of these examples that show the wide range of proper nouns that you'll find in everyday language:
This includes the names of people and places such as:
Names of TV shows and films such as:
Game of Thrones
And also brands, services, institutions, and associations such as:
University of Cambridge
Notice how all of the proper nouns begin with a capital letter no matter where they appear in the sentence? This is because it is the proper name of something, just like how your name refers specifically to you and therefore starts with a capital letter. Can you think of any other proper nouns that you see in your life? This may be your favorite TV show, your favorite clothing brand, or the name of your best friend.
In contrast to a proper noun, a common noun is a thing or object, and doesn't use a capital letter. They are basically all the other nouns.
Notice how the word 'ocean' is an example in both the common nouns and the proper nouns. This is because a noun can be common or proper depending on the context. An 'ocean' does not refer to anywhere in particular, just a large area of water. It is therefore a common noun. The 'Indian Ocean', however, refers to a specific ocean below the Indian subcontinent. It is therefore a proper noun because it refers to a specific and unique place.
An abstract noun is the opposite of a concrete noun. It refers to things that do not physically exist, but rather feelings, ideas, or concepts that only exist in the mind. This may be a feeling such as 'anger' and 'sadness', or concepts such as 'friendship' and 'truth'. You cannot touch these things, or give the physical size of them.
Here are some further examples:
Sometimes it can be quite difficult to decide which category a word belongs to. In this situation, make sure you look at the context . The word 'music', for example, can be a concrete noun (like 'sheet music'), or the concept of sounds we hear ('listening to music'), which is an abstract noun.
In the category of common nouns are all the other subcategories of nouns.
As you can see, the types of common nouns include concrete nouns, abstract nouns, countable nouns, uncountable nouns, collective nouns, and compound nouns.
A concrete noun refers to things that physically exist . We can touch or experience these things physically. We can sometimes plot and measure its dimensions. The use of the word 'concrete' hints at this idea of a physical object; we can touch, walk on, and measure a concrete object. (Just try to avoid measuring your local pavements in public!)
Examples of concrete nouns include:
As suggested in the name, a countable noun is a noun that can be 'counted', ie. can take the plural suffixes -s or -es. There are also some irregular plural forms such as 'mouse' (pl. 'mice'), child (pl. 'children'), and sheep (pl. 'sheep').
Take a look at these examples of countable nouns:
Try placing a number in front of any of these nouns. You'll see that all of these nouns can be counted and take the plural form eg 'I have four books'. They can also take a singular form eg. 'a bike' or 'an elephant'.
Many countable nouns are concrete nouns as they refer to objects that physically exist.
An uncountable noun is, as you can guess, a noun that cannot be used in the plural, except in certain uses (see below). It is therefore 'uncountable' and you can rarely place a number in front of it. Uncountable nouns are also called 'mass nouns' or 'non-count nouns'.
Some examples include:
Try placing a number in front of these nouns. You'll find that 'two musics' or 'three braveries' does not really make sense!
Sometimes a word can be either countable or uncountable depending on the context. The easiest way to tell the difference between a countable and an uncountable noun is by looking at the determiner ('a', 'the', 'some/any' etc.) before the noun.
'I need to buy some paper' - Here, the word 'paper' is uncountable as it refers to paper in general.
'I brought a paper to the café' - Here the word 'paper' is countable as it refers to a singular 'newspaper'. The determiner 'a' suggests there is only one and it is therefore countable.
Uncountable nouns can also be used in the plural within certain contexts. Take the words 'rain' and 'salt' for example. In monsoon season we may say 'the rains have been heavy this year', or when we are talking about the different types of salt we may say 'we can form a variety of salts using a chemical process'.
A collective noun refers to a group, or a collection of people, animals, or objects. This is a noun in which the plural is made into a singular group.
For example, a group of people:
A team of people
A group of animals:
A stove of cows
A flock of sheep
Or a group of things:
A pack of cards
A bunch of flowers
As you can see, a collective noun refers to a collection of things (eg. cows) as a whole (eg. a herd).
Collective nouns are not to be confused with the plural form. For example, the word 'students' is plural whereas the word 'class' is a collective noun. This is because 'class' refers to students as a collective, or as a whole.
Last but not least are 'compound nouns'. This is a noun made up of two or more existing words . These two words are 'stuck together' to form a new noun, called a compound noun.
Examples of compound nouns include:
Can you spot the separate words in these examples? Some compound nouns have hyphens to separate the words eg. a merry-go-round. Others become one word eg. skateboard. Each separate word communicates something about the compound noun. For example, a 'football' is a 'ball' that you kick with your 'foot'.
Can you think of any other compound nouns and why they describe the thing, object, or person?
We understand that it can be hard to remember the many different types of nouns. For this reason, we've designed a noun revision section for you! (No problem, you can thank us later).
This will help you to compare and contrast the differences between the various types of noun.
This diagram shows how a word can belong to the different categories of nouns. We said earlier that concrete nouns are often countable, whereas abstract nouns are often uncountable. We can also see that all of the words are either a proper noun or a common noun as these are the two main types of noun.
A noun phrase is a simple phrase (or group of words) that is built 'around the noun' . The noun takes center stage in the sentence. For example, 'the big dog' is a noun phrase, formed around the noun 'dog' as the most important piece of information.
You will find more information about noun phrases in our 'Types of Phrases' revision sheet.
A gerund is a noun that is formed using the root of a verb eg. 'climb' and adding the suffix '-ing'. This makes 'climbing'. A gerund looks like the present participle of a verb, however, it functions just like a noun. Consider this sentence: 'I like swimming'. Here the -ing form of the verb functions as a noun.
A possessive noun is a noun that shows ownership . It is usually formed by adding the suffix 's to a noun. For example, 'the girl's hat' or 'the dog's bone'.
An attributive noun is a noun that functions as an adjective . It appears in the front of the noun to describe an attribute. An example of this is 'tomato' in 'I ate tomato soup'. The word 'tomato' is a noun, however it is used here to add further information about the other noun 'soup', a bit like an adjective.
A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun or a noun phrase. Pronouns often refer to a noun that has been previously mentioned and so is understood in context. Examples of pronouns include 'I', 'he', 'her', 'its', 'mine', 'yourself'. In the sentence 'Joe is good at playing football' the noun 'Joe' can be replaced with the pronoun 'he'. The sentence becomes, 'he is good at playing football'. As the noun (Joe) has already been mentioned, we understand that the pronoun 'he' replaces his name.
A noun is a word that identifies a person, place, thing, or concept. It ‘names’ something.
Examples of nouns include the names of objects eg. ‘spoon’, the names of people eg. ‘Ed Sheeran’, the names of places eg. ‘France’, the names of concepts eg. ‘love’.
A noun phrase is a group of words built around a noun eg. ‘the big, red dog’ is a noun phrase as the noun ‘dog’ is the most essential information.
A proper noun is a type of noun that refers to a unique person, place, or thing. Proper nouns usually begin with a capital letter. For example, ‘London’, ‘Jack’, ‘Game of Thrones’, and ‘Coca Cola’.
An abstract noun refers to a thing that doesn’t physically exist. They are words that name feelings, ideas, or concepts that only exist in the mind such as ‘love’, ‘skills’, and ‘friendship’.
A word can belong to multiple noun categories. For example, common nouns consist of more than one type such as countable, uncountable, collective, etc.
A word can only belong to one type of noun. True or false?
This is false. A word can belong to multiple categories of nouns and this may change according to the context of the word.
Name the two principal categories of nouns.
The two principal types of nouns are ‘common nouns’ and ‘proper nouns’.
Which of the following is an example of a proper noun?
Name the 6 types of common nouns discussed in the text.
Concrete nouns, abstract nouns, countable nouns, uncountable nouns, collective nouns, and compound nouns.
What is the difference between a concrete noun and an abstract noun?
A concrete noun is a thing that physically exists. We can usually touch this thing and measure its proportions. An abstract noun, however, does not physically exist. It is a concept, idea, or feeling that only exists within the mind.
Pick out the concrete noun from the following:
Pick out the abstract noun from the following:
What is the difference between a countable and an uncountable noun? Can you think of an example for each?
A countable noun is a thing that can be ‘counted’, i.e. it can exist in the plural. Some examples include ‘bottle’, ‘dog’ and ‘boy’. These are often concrete nouns.
An uncountable noun is something that can not be counted, so you often cannot place a number in front of it. Examples include ‘love’, ‘joy’, and ‘milk’.
Pick out the collective noun from the following:
What is the collective noun for a group of sheep?
The collective noun is a ‘flock’, as in ‘flock of sheep’.
The word ‘greenhouse’ is a compound noun. True or false?
This is true. The word ‘greenhouse’ is a compound noun as it is made up of two separate words ‘green’ and ‘house’. These come together to form a new word.
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