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What Is a Noun?

The definition of a noun used to be so simple. You may even remember your elementary school teachers telling you a noun was a person, place or thing. Then it got a little more complicated when they added idea to the list. Then it got even more confusing when you asked about coffee in coffee table. Is it a noun or an adjective? What about when you add an apostrophe and s to it to show possession? Is it still a noun, or does it become an adjective? And round and round you go. Its exhausting, but ther e are answers.

Defining a Noun
There are a lot of definitions for noun, from the simple list to the complex linguistic explanation, but the best way to explain what a noun is is to explain what a noun does. Remember when you read that verbs do verb-y things? Well, here are the noun-y things that nouns do:

They come with articles. If it follows "a," "an" or "the" fairly closely, its probably a noun. If theres an adjective in there, itll be between the article and the noun, so youll have to ask yourself, Is this something I can feel, see, smell, taste or touch? Or does it describe something I can feel, see, smell, taste or touch? If its the former, its a noun. If its the latter, its probably an adjective. They are described by adjectives. If something is described as being blue, old, shiny, hot or wonderful (all adjectives), its probably a noun. They act as subjects. Generally, the subject of a sentence is the thing that comes right before the verb. When you say, The Dingo ate my baby, the subject is the Dingo. It co mes right before the verb (ate). Subjects are a little tricky because they can consist of just one word or a whole, long phrase that can contain several nouns. Gerund and infinitive verbs can also act as subjects of a sentence, but in that role, they are serving as nouns. Why? Because nouns act as subjects. They act as objects and complements. Complements follow state-of-being verbs like be, seem and become. Objects follow other verbs as well as prepositions. In the sentence, Amy is a teacher, the complement is a teacher. In the sentence, Billy hit a teacher, the object is a teacher. In the sentence, I am sitting near a teacher, the prepositional object is a teacher. In all cases, teacher is a noun. They are names. All names of all things (people, cities, towns, counties, states, countries, buildings, monuments, rivers, mountains, lakes, oceans, streams, natural disasters, books, plays, magazines, articles, songs, works of art, etc.) are nouns. Not all nouns do all of these things all of the time, and not all the words that do some of these things are nouns, but by and large, if it looks like a noun and acts like a noun, its probably a noun.

Noun Gender
In English, most nouns are not inherently male or female like they are in many other languages. However, there are a few nouns that do indicate masculinity/femininity:

actor/actress waiter/waitress prince/princess king/queen boy/girl man/woman gentleman/lady uncle/aunt father/mother grandfather/grandmother brother/sister son/daughter nephew/niece

Plural Nouns
Most English nouns can be made plural simply by adding an "s" to them, but there are a few exceptions.

Nouns whose singular forms end in s, z, x, ch or sh need es to become plural (boss-bosses, box-boxes, watchwatches, bush-bushes).

Certain nouns that end in o also need es to become plural (potato-potatoes, hero-heroes, volcano-volcanoes). For nouns that end in f or fe, change the f to a v, and add es (knife -knives, wolf-wolves). If a singular noun ends in a single consonant followed by y, change the y to i, and add es (lady-ladies, spyspies).

Common vs. Proper Nouns


Common nouns are simply things that exist in mass quantities whereas proper nouns are names of specific things. For example, building is a common noun. There are millions of them in the world. Theyre common. However the Empire State Building is the name of one specific building. Theres only one, and thats its name. Its a proper noun. Common nouns are not capitalized (unless they begin a sentence, of course), but proper nouns are always capitalized.

Count vs. Non-Count Nouns


Count (or countable) nouns are nouns that can be counted and therefore made plural. You can have just one eye, but more likely, you have two eyes. One eye, two eyes you can count them. Non-count (or non-countable/uncountable) nouns are those that we do not generally pluralize. Most liquids, powders and grains fall into this category. Even though there are many corn flakes in your bowl, you say you eat cereal for breakfast, not cereals. And you put sugar on it, not sugars, and you drink coffee with it, not coffees. We sometimes pluralize non-count nouns when we are referring to the container or form in which they come. You order two coffees (one for you, one for your friend), but what you really mean is two cups of coffee. Youre counting the cups, not the liquid.

Concrete vs. Abstract Nouns


Concrete nouns are those that can be perceived with the five senses. If you can see, taste, smell, touch and/or hear it, its a concrete noun. If its a concept or idea (love, peace, hate, justice) that cannot be perceived physically, its anabstract noun.

Possessive Nouns
Possessive nouns can function in the same way as possessive adjectives and pronouns, but possessive nouns are simply nouns with s or at the end to show possession. Theyre still nouns, but they function as adjectives or pronouns depending on how you use them. A noun is any word that does one or more of these noun-y things.
If youre a teacher, tutor, student or parent trying to catch up on a few grammar rules, the following information on common nouns is a great place to start! Lets begin with the basics.

What are Common Nouns?


While there are many different types of nouns, common nouns are the least complex. They are simply words that name people, places, things, or ideas. But they are not the actual NAMES of people, place or things. In other words, the word girl is a common noun, but the word Ashley is a proper noun because its the specific name of the girl. By the same token street is a common noun, but Main Street is a proper noun as it calls a specific street by name. The word Colorado is a proper noun because it names a particular state. The word state is a common noun because it could refer to any state in America.

Examples of Common Nouns


Finding examples of common nouns is as simple as opening you eyes! What is the first thing you see when you wake up each morning? Your alarm clock? The word clock is a common noun because it names, or identifies, a thing. What do you see when you walk out your front door each morning? A car, a tree, the sky, your neighbor, a bus, a house, a store? All are common nouns because they name a thing, place, or person: People: mother, father, baby, child, toddler, teenager, grandmother, student, teacher, minister, businessperson, salesclerk, woman, man

Animals: lion, tiger, bear, dog, cat, alligator, cricket, bird, wolf Things: table, truck, book, pencil, iPad, computer, coat, boots, Places: city, state, country, continent, coffee shop, restaurant, park, zoo Ideas: envy, love, hate, respect, patriotism, pride

Capitalizing Common Nouns


Capitalization rules can get confusing sometimes but when it comes to capitalizing common nouns the rules are very simple. Dont do itunless the common noun is the first word in a sentence or part of a title. For example

State laws are passed by the legislature. Each state may have varying laws.

Possessive Common Nouns


Possessive nouns show ownership or relation to something else. To make a singular common noun possessive, simply add an apostrophe and the letter s. The babys cries woke the exhausted new parents. The toddlers face was covered in birthday cake. The dogs bark was worse than his bite. The old cars exhaust pipe emitted dusty black smoke. To make the possessive form of a singular common noun that ends in s add an apostrophe and s, as in these examples: The walruss bucket was missing. The buss yellow paint was beginning to rust. For a plural common noun that doesnt end in s simply follow the rules of singular common noun that doesnt end in s and add an apostrophe and s. The mens basketball team is headed for the championship tournament. The childrens playroom floor was covered with toys. If a plural common noun does end in s just add an apostrophe to make the possessive form. The movie was interrupted by the babies crying in the back row. The nest of rattlesnakess hissings warned the hiker to stay away. Now that youve brushed on the basics, recognizing and using common nouns is really pretty easy, dont you agree?