What are English Nouns?

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Nouns are probably the first English words we learn growing up. When we’re still babies, the first words we spoke were “mama” or “papa.” Interestingly, we began building our vocabularies with words belonging to this category. Moreover, these words are considered to be so important that’s why they rank first in our list of the eight parts of speech in English.  

In English grammar,  a noun is simply the name of a person, place, thing, or event. 

What are the characteristics of nouns?

Before you learn more about this part of speech, it’s very important to learn their characteristics first. Generally, nouns have the following characteristics:

1. They are abstract or concrete.

2. They are proper or common.

3. Most are singular or plural, but…

4. Some are collective.

Grammatically, noun markers are placed first before the noun in most cases. The common noun markers we have in English are the articles/adjectives a, an, the, or some for example. Sometimes, they also go together with possessive words like my or your. A noun always follows a noun marker, though adjectives or other words may come between them:

For example:

the past year

your beautiful mother

a freezing winter

an amazing journey

Because of their noun markers, we can easily recognize that year, mother, winter, and journey are nouns. However, you also remember that not all nouns are preceded by markers. In some cases, you can use a noun marker test to identify abstract nouns.

Nouns

A. Every noun is either abstract or concrete.

Nouns like love, passion, and eagerness are abstract nouns. This type refers to things we cannot see, touch, or detect readily through our senses.

Abstract nouns name ideas (realism, monarchy), measurements (weight, percent), emotions (love, angst), or qualities (responsibility).

Concrete nouns, on the other hand, name persons, including animals (cousins, Roger Rabbit), places (beach, Chicago), or things we can see, touch, or otherwise felt/seen/tried through our senses (smoke, beer).

Nouns

B. Every noun is either proper or common.

Proper nouns are kinds of nouns that identify a specific person, animal, place, thing, or idea —Japan, Peppa Pig, for example. Moreover, the first letter of each word of a proper noun is capitalized.

On the contrary, common nouns are common names of people or things; rather, it refers to an entire class or type.

Also, common nouns do not require capitalization.

For example:

1. Gucci is a very expensive clothing brand.

Gucci – Proper noun

brand – Common noun

2. Orange and strawberries are my favorite fruits.

Orange and Strawberries – Proper noun

fruits – common noun

Nouns

C. Most nouns are either singular or plural.

English nouns, unlike other languages, are made by adding -s or -es at the end of the word. Thus, the place becomes places, and the boy becomes boys.

However, we add -es in words ending with “o” – tomato – tomatoes, volcano – volcanoes, etc.

To make the plural form of some nouns ending with “y” like the sky, fly, and baby, we drop the y, change it to “i” and then we add -es. For example, sky – skies, fly – flies, baby – babies.

Some nouns have irregular plural forms: man becomes men, a woman becomes women, goose becomes geese. The foot becomes feet, the thesis becomes theses, alumnus becomes alumni, etc.

Interestingly, some words have the same form in both singular and plural: “A moose (a kind of deer) is crossing the river. No, wait —three moose are crossing the river!”

D. Some nouns are collective.

A collective noun names a collection or group of things. Although a collective noun refers to a group of many things, it is usually singular in form. We think of a collective noun as singular because its members act in one accord:

The class is cleaning the room.

Here, the class is a collective noun referring to a group of many people acting with one will.

In some instances, a collective noun describes a group that is not acting with one will, whose members rather are taking independent, divergent actions. In this case, we treat the collective noun as a plural to reflect the plurality of the members’ actions. 

For example:

The jury were not able to come up with the same conclusion for the problem.

If the jury had reached a unanimous decision, we would have said:

The jury was unanimous in its verdict.

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