All About Nouns

Let’s learn about nouns and how to use them correctly with fun exercises.

First, we'll cover the different types  including countable, uncountable, common, proper, abstract, concrete, collective, possessive, singular and plural. We'll also look at some of their different functions  in sentences (subjects, direct objects, indirect objects, objects of prepositions).

First things first:

A noun is a word which names  a person, place, thing, animal or idea.

Here are a few examples:

  • Joseph, grandmother, teacher (people)
  • restaurant, France, beach (places)
  • book, ball, pizza (things)
  • cat, lion, fish (animals)
  • philosophy, love, happiness (ideas)

Types of Nouns

* Important * - A noun will fit into several  of these categories, not just one. [e.g., book is a common, concrete, countable, singular noun]

Common & Proper Nouns

All nouns are either common or proper.

Common nouns name general (not specific) people, places, things, animals or ideas.

  • For example:  teacher, scientist, library, kitchen, table, phone, happiness, love, freedom.

Proper nouns name specific people, places, things and ideas. In English, proper nouns are normally CAPITALIZED.

Proper Noun Type

Names of people

Titles

Institutions

Buildings & Structures

Places

Religious names

Historical names

Events & Festivals

Months / Days of the Week

Example

Madonna, Mr. Jones

Mr, Mrs, Professor, Dr., Sir

United Nations, Coca-Cola, Louvre Museum

The White House, Golden Gate Bridge

Europe, London, Antarctica, Sahara Desert

Hinduism, Koran, Bible, Buddhism

World War II, Ottoman Empire, Dayton Accords

Olympic Games, Boston Marathon, New Year's Eve

January, August, Tuesday, Saturday

Remember that common nouns name general  things and proper nouns name specific  things:

Common Noun

teacher

country

holiday

day

university

Proper Noun

Professor Jones

Canada

Ramadan

Tuesday

Harvard University

Abstract & Concrete Nouns

Abstract nouns name something you cannot see or touch. They're harder to define and name things that are related to ideas, feelings and time.

  • For example:  bravery, friendship, culture, sadness, morning, health

Concrete nouns name things that you can physically touch or see.

  • For example: Uncle Charlie, telephone, automobile, elephant

Countable & Uncountable Nouns

All common nouns can either be counted with numbers or they cannot be counted.

Countable nouns can be easily counted.

  • You could count the number of apples in a basket (e.g., 5 apples) or the number of desks in a classroom (e.g., 20 desks).
  • Examples of countable nouns:  tomato, computer, finger, house, elephant,

Uncountable nouns are difficult to count or divide into separate parts because they:

  • are the name for abstract ideas and concepts:  love, sadness, safety, freedom, power
  • are tiny objects:  powder, sand, rice
  • don't have a clear form  like liquids or gases:  water, coffee, milk, air, oxygen
  • are categories of things:  furniture, music, luggage

To make things a little complicated, some nouns can be both countable or uncountable. It depends on the meaning  you are trying to convey. For example:

Uncountable

(conveys a general  meaning)

You look good with long hair. (general  meaning - all the hair on your head)

Countable

(conveys a specific  meaning)

The police found two hairs at the crime scene.

My skin is very dry.

The purse is made of several snake skins.

Do you recycle paper?

I left some papers on the printer.

Click here for more information about countable and uncountable nouns.


Singular & Plural Nouns

Singular nouns name just one (single) thing.

  • Example:  blueberry, democracy, relationship, one cat, a sofa

Plural nouns name more than one thing.

  • Example:  blueberries, democracies, relationships, two cats, sofas

There are regular and irregular plural nouns. Most nouns have a distinct (different) singular and plural form, however some nouns do not have a plural form.

Since there are several different rules and exceptions, for more information about plural nouns click here. (I've included lots of examples on the linked page.)


Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are made of more than one word which describe a group of people or things as one unit.  Think of it as a collection of things together.

  • For example:  a herd of elephants, a crowd of people, a bunch of flowers.
  • Other examples: family, team, majority, nation, class, choir, jury, fleet, cabinet (of ministers)

Compound Nouns

Compound nouns are made up of two or more words.

  • Examples:  backspace, blackboard, copyright, daylight, downstairs, earring , everything , haircut, handwriting, toothpaste, weekend, lipstick, keyboard

Possessive Nouns

Possessive nouns show ownership or possession (something belongs to the noun). For example:

  • Sandra's shoes. (the shoes belong to Sandra)
  • The boy's bicycle. (the boy owns the bicycle)
  • The student's intelligence. (the student possesses intelligence)

To make a singular noun a possessive noun, add an apostrophe ( ' ) plus an -s:

Singular Noun

Joe

boy

sofa

Possessive Noun

Joe's sweater

boy's book

sofa's cushions

To make a plural noun a possessive noun you must look at the last letter of the word:

  1. Normally, add an apostrophe ( ' ) and -s
  2. However, If the noun ends in -s add an apostrophe ( ' ) after the -s.

boys

women

students

boys' toys

women's rights

students' teacher

Click here for more detailed information on possessive nouns.

Noun Functions

It is good to know a little bit about how nouns can be used in sentences. Nouns are one of the eight parts of speech in English and in any sentence they can do different jobs. Nouns can be:

Subjects:  A noun can be the subject of a sentence or clause, describing whom or what the sentence is about.

  • Examples:  Pizza is delicious. The boy ran through the park.

Predicate nominative:  A noun can rename the subject by completing a linking verb. 

  • Example:  Jessica is my best friend. (Answers the question who  is Jessica?) 


Direct objects:  A noun can receive the action of a verb.

  • Example:  I threw the football.

Indirect objects: Nouns can receive the direct object.

  • Example:  I threw John the football.

Object of the preposition:  In a prepositional phrase, a noun can follow a preposition and complete its meaning.

  • I threw the football to John.

Object complement: here a noun directly follows and describes the direct object.

  • Our coach named me team captain.

Go to main GRAMMAR page.

Return from nouns page to HOMEPAGE.