What Are Nouns? Learn how to identify nouns and types of nouns in English.
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What Are Nouns?
Nouns are described as words that refer to a person, place, thing, event, substance, quality, quantity, etc.
Nouns are a part of speech typically denoting a person, place, thing, animal or idea.
Types of Nouns
Proper Nouns and Common Nouns
A proper noun or proper name is a noun representing unique entities (such as Earth, India, Jupiter, Harry, or BMW), as distinguished from common nouns which describe a class of entities (such as city, animal, planet, person or car).
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Count nouns or countable nouns are common nouns that can take a plural, can combine with numerals or counting quantifiers (e.g., one, two, several, every, most), and can take an indefinite article such as a or an (in languages which have such articles). Examples of count nouns are chair, nose, occasion…
Uncountable (or non-count) nouns differ from count nouns in precisely that respect: they cannot take plurals or combine with number words or the above type of quantifiers.
For example, it is not possible to refer to a furniture or three furnitures. This is true even though the pieces of furniture comprising furniture could be counted. Thus the distinction between count and non-count nouns should not be made in terms of what sorts of things the nouns refer to, but rather in terms of how the nouns present these entities.
Many nouns have both countable and uncountable uses; for example, beer is countable in “give me three beers“, but uncountable in “he likes beer.”
Collective nouns are nouns that refer to groups consisting of more than one individual or entity, even when they are inflected for the singular. Examples include committee, herd, and school (of fish). These nouns have slightly different grammatical properties than other nouns. For example, the noun phrases that they head can serve as the subject of a collective predicate, even when they are inflected for.
Most English compound nouns are noun phrases (i.e. nominal phrases) that include a noun modified by adjectives or noun adjuncts.
Most English compound nouns that consist of more than two words can be constructed recursively by combining two words at a time. Combining science and fiction, and then combining the resulting compound with writer, for example, can construct the compound science fiction writer. Some compounds, such as salt and pepper or mother-of-pearl, cannot be constructed in this way.
Concrete Nouns and Abstract Nouns
Concrete nouns refer to physical entities that can, in principle at least, be observed by at least one of the senses (for instance, chair, apple, Janet or atom).
Abstract nouns, on the other hand, refer to abstract objects; that is, ideas or concepts (such as justice or hatred). While this distinction is sometimes exclusive, some nouns have multiple senses, including both concrete and abstract ones; consider, for example, the noun “art”, which usually refers to a concept (e.g., Art is an important element of human culture) but which can refer to a specific artwork in certain contexts (e.g., I put my daughter’s art up on the fridge.)
Some abstract nouns developed etymologically by figurative extension from literal roots. These include drawback, fraction, holdout, and uptake. Similarly, some nouns have both abstract and concrete senses, with the latter having developed by figurative extension from the former. These include view, filter, structure, and key.
In English, many abstract nouns are formed by adding noun-forming suffixes (-ness, –ity, –ion) to adjectives or verbs. Examples are happiness (from the adjective happy), circulation (from the verb circulate) and serenity (from the adjective serene).