Nouns

A noun is a word that identifies:

  • a person (woman, boy, doctor, neighbor)
  • a thing (dog, building, tree, country)
  • an idea, quality, or state (truth, danger, birth, happiness).
There are several different types of noun, as follows:
 
Common noun
 
A common noun is a noun that refers to people or things in general—e.g., boy, country, bridge, city, birth, day, happiness.
 
Proper noun
 
A proper noun is a name that identifies a particular person, place, or thing—e.g., Steven, Africa, Brooklyn Bridge, Toronto, Monday. In written English, proper nouns begin with capital letters.
 
Concrete noun
 
A concrete noun is a noun that refers to people and to things that exist physically and can be seen, touched, smelled, heard, or tasted. Examples include dog, building, coffee, tree, rain, beach, tune, Brooklyn Bridge.
 
Abstract noun
 
An abstract noun is a noun that refers to ideas, qualities, and conditions—things that cannot be seen or touched and things that have no physical reality. For example: truth, danger, happiness, time, friendship, humor.
 
A noun may belong to more than one category. For example, happiness is both a common noun and an abstract noun, while Brooklyn Bridge is both a concrete noun and a proper noun.
 
Collective nouns
 
Collective nouns refer to groups of people or things—e.g., audience, family, government, team, jury. In American English, most collective nouns are treated as singular, with a singular verb:
 
The whole family was at the table.
 
In British English, the preceding sentence would be correct, but it would also be correct to treat the collective noun as a plural, with a plural verb:
 
The whole family were at the table.
 
For more information about this, see Matching verbs to collective nouns.
 

Countable and uncountable nouns

Nouns can be either countable or uncountable. Countable nouns (or count nouns) are those that refer to something that can be counted. They have both singular and plural forms (e.g., cat/cats; woman/women; country/countries). In the singular, they can be preceded by a or an. Most nouns come into this category.

A smaller number of nouns do not typically refer to things that can be counted and so they do not regularly have a plural form: these are known as uncountable nouns (or mass nouns). Examples include: rain, flour, earth, wine, or wood. Uncountable nouns can't be preceded by a or an. Many abstract nouns are typically uncountable (e.g., happiness, truth, darkness, humor).

Some uncountable nouns can be used in the plural as well, depending on the meaning or context of the word. Take a look at these sentences:

Would you like some coffee?

uncountable because it's referring to the drink in general

He ordered a coffee.

countable, because it's referring to a cup of coffee

There's no truth in the rumors.

uncountable, because it refers to the quality or state of being true

The fundamental truths about human nature.

countable, because it's referring to facts or beliefs that are true

There are some words that should be used only with countable nouns and some that you should use only with uncountable nouns. Here are the main examples:

word

with countable
noun?

with uncountable
noun?
examples
few, fewer X fewer students; few cars
little, less, least X less food, little time
many, several X many changes; several books
much X much pleasure; much sleep

You often hear people using less with countable nouns (e.g., ‘there are less cars outside the school gates’). Although it's a common mistake, it is still a mistake and you should try to avoid making it in both writing and speaking.

 

Back to word classes (or parts of speech).

You may also be interested in

Verbs

Adjectives

Adverbs


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