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Noun

In English, words are grouped into word classes based on the function they perform in a sentence. There are 9 main word classes in English; nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, and interjections. This explanation is all about nouns.

Noun meaning

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:

  • Proper nouns

  • Common nouns

  • Concrete nouns

  • Abstract nouns

  • Countable nouns

  • Uncountable nouns

  • Collective nouns

  • Compound nouns

We will also cover other terms related to nouns, such as gerunds and noun phrases, and words that replace nouns, such as pronouns.

Let's look at each of these

Types of nouns

In the English language, there are two main types of nouns. These are called 'common nouns' and 'proper nouns'. As suggested in the name, most nouns are common nouns.

Noun Main types of nouns StudySmarterFig 1. Main types of nouns

Proper 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:

  • Ed Sheeran

  • London

  • Emma

  • Indian Ocean

Names of TV shows and films such as:

  • Game of Thrones

  • Shrek

  • Pulp Fiction

  • Home Alone

And also brands, services, institutions, and associations such as:

  • Coke

  • University of Cambridge

  • Government

  • BBC iPlayer

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.

Noun A photograph of London at sunset StudySmarterFig 2. London is a proper noun

Common nouns

In contrast to a proper noun, a common noun is a non-specific thing or object, and doesn't use a capital letter. They are basically all the other nouns.

They include:

  • dog

  • love

  • ocean

  • confusion

  • coffee

  • man

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. Therefore, it is a proper noun because it refers to a specific and unique place.

Types of common nouns

In the category of common nouns are all the other subcategories of nouns.

Noun Diagram showing the common nouns StudySmarterFig 3. Types of common nouns

As you can see, the types of common nouns include concrete nouns, abstract nouns, countable nouns, uncountable nouns, collective nouns, and compound nouns.

Concrete 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:

  • table

  • hamburger

  • book

  • mouse

  • heart

  • airport

Abstract nouns

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 describe the physical properties of them.

Here are some further examples:

  • love

  • anger

  • skill

  • friendship

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.

Countable nouns

As suggested in the name, a countable noun is a noun that can be 'counted', i.e. can take the plural suffixes -s or -es. There are also some irregular plural forms such as 'mouse' (e.g. 'mice'), child (e.g. 'children'), and sheep (e.g. 'sheep').

Take a look at these examples of countable nouns:

  • bottle

  • book

  • cow

  • boy

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, e.g. '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.

Uncountable nouns

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'. Uncountable nouns are usually uncountable as the concept is abstract (e.g. love) or the object is so small and plentiful it would be impossible to count (e.g. sand).

Some examples include:

  • love

  • advice

  • rain

  • music

  • bravery

  • salt

Try placing a number in front of these nouns. You'll find that 'two musics' or 'three braveries' does not really make sense! Instead, we usually use the quantifiers some and any when discussing uncountable nouns, e.g. 'I would like some salt.'

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'.

Collective nouns

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 crowd

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.

Noun Flock of sheep in a field StudySmarterFig 4. A flock of sheep is a collective noun

Compound nouns

Last but not least is '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:

  • skateboard

  • football

  • dry cleaning

  • pizza Hut

  • daredevil

  • self-esteem

Can you spot the separate words in these examples? Some compound nouns have hyphens to separate the words, e.g. merry-go-round, whereas others become one word, e.g. 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?

Noun Revision Sheet

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.

Noun Noun revision sheet StudySmarterFig 5. Noun revision sheet

Nouns in multiple categories

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.

Nouns, Table showing examples for the categories of nouns, StudySmarterFig 6. Categories of nouns

Other types of nouns

So far we have covered the main types of nouns; however, your noun discovery journey doesn't end there. There are other word classes, word forms, and phrases all relating to nouns that you also need to be aware of. Let's look at these now.

Noun phrases

A noun phrase is a simple phrase (or group of words) that is built 'around the noun'. The noun phrase acts as the noun in a sentence and is often 'centre stage'. 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.

Gerunds

A gerund is a verb form that functions as a noun in a sentence. Gerunds are 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.

Possessive nouns

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'.

Attributive nouns

An attributive noun is a noun that functions as an adjective in a sentence. 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.

Pronouns

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.

Pronouns are considered a word class in their own right.

Noun - key takeaways

  • A noun is a word that names something. This can be a person, place, thing, idea, or concept.
  • The main two types of nouns are proper nouns and common nouns. Proper nouns 'name' a unique person, place, or thing and usually begin with a capital letter. Common nouns are the rest of the nouns and do not usually begin with a capital letter.
  • Common nouns can be categorised into countable and uncountable nouns, abstract and concrete nouns, compound nouns, and collective nouns.
  • Other important noun types are possessive nouns, pronouns, attributive nouns, gerunds, and noun phrases.

Frequently Asked Questions about Noun

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.

Final Noun Quiz

Question

A word can only belong to one type of noun. True or false?

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Answer

This is false. A word can belong to multiple categories of nouns and this may change according to the context of the word.

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Question

Name the two principal categories of nouns.

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Answer

The two principal types of nouns are ‘common nouns’ and ‘proper nouns’.

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Question

Which of the following is an example of a proper noun?


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Answer

Coca Cola

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Question

Name the 6 types of common nouns discussed in the text.

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Answer

Concrete nouns, abstract nouns, countable nouns, uncountable nouns, collective nouns, and compound nouns.

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Question

What is the difference between a concrete noun and an abstract noun?


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Answer

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.

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Question

Pick out the concrete noun from the following:


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Answer

Giraffe


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Question

Pick out the abstract noun from the following:

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Answer

Time

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Question

What is the difference between a countable and an uncountable noun? Can you think of an example for each?


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Answer

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’.

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Question

Pick out the collective noun from the following:


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Answer

​choir

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Question

What is the collective noun for a group of sheep?


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Answer

The collective noun is a ‘flock’, as in ‘flock of sheep’.

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Question

The word ‘greenhouse’ is a compound noun. True or false?


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Answer

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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Question

What is a gerund?

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Answer

A verb form that functions as a noun in a sentence, e.g. swimming

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Question

What is a noun phrase?

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Answer

A group of words that acts as the noun in a sentence, e.g. ' The big black dog'

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Question

What is an attributive noun?

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Answer

A noun that functions as an adjective in a sentence, e.g. 'tomato soup'

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Question

True or false, compound nouns are made of two existing words?

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Answer

True

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Question

What type of letter do proper nouns begin with?

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Answer

A capital letter

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Question

What type of noun can be used to describe a group of animals?

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Answer

A collective noun

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Question

True or false, pronouns are a word class in their own right?

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Answer

True

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Question

Identify the all the types of noun the word in bold can be:

'She put her hair up.'

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Answer

Uncountable noun

Common noun

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Question

Identify the all the types of noun the word in bold can be:

'She smelt the flowers.'

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Answer

Plural noun

Common name

Countable noun

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