Common Nouns: What Are Common Nouns? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on August 8, 2023

What are common nouns? If that's a question you've been looking for the answer to, you've come to the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know about common nouns and how to use them correctly in your writing.

In short:

  • Common nouns are words that name general things.
  • They differ from proper nouns in that they aren't capitalized and don't refer to specific things.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Common Nouns?

All nouns are words that name something. The word itself comes from the Latin nomen meaning 'name.' There are many types of nouns: mass nouns, possessive nouns, attributive nouns... the list goes on. You can learn about those in our general article about nouns. In this article, we'll be learning specifically about common nouns.

Common nouns are:

  • Words that identify a person, an animal, a place, a profession, a substance, a quality, and so on. The list is pretty long.

Here are some examples of common nouns:

  • father
  • cat
  • city
  • bus driver
  • gas
  • softness

Common nouns are not capitalized unless they begin a sentence, as opposed to proper nouns, which always start with a capital letter.

There are three kinds of common nouns:

  • concrete
  • abstract
  • collective

Concrete Nouns

Concrete nouns:

  • Describe something material that you can hear, smell, see, taste, or touch.
  • They are made of matter, to use the scientific term.

Here are some examples of concrete common nouns for each sense. Some sentences have more than one concrete noun; can you spot the ones I didn't underline?

Careful; you don't want to be struck by lightning. (sight)

Before dessert I'm serving up some cheese(taste)

Depeche Mode's released an album with seven 12" vinyl discs. (sound)

He bought me a bunch of fresh red roses(smell)

Is there anything more calming than stroking a dog? (touch)

Of course, these nouns don't just satisfy one of the senses; they can all be perceived by at least two of our senses, as is the case with most concrete common nouns.

Abstract Nouns

Abstract nouns are the opposite of concrete nouns: they can't be experienced by one of our five senses. They require a bit more imagination. Abstract nouns refer to things that exist, of course, but they're ideas or concepts rather than tangible things.

Here are some examples:

I wanna know what love is.

Do you often ponder on the meaning of life?

You've shown a lot of courage today.

He is no longer with us but his soul lives on.

I don't need your judgment; I feel bad enough.

Collective Nouns

A collective noun is:

  • A single word that refers to a collection of things, people, places, animals, or ideas.

Here are a few examples of collective nouns:

  • pair
  • team
  • class
  • bunch
  • family
  • group
  • audience
  • set
  • hive
  • jury
  • herd
  • army

Even though a collective noun refers to a collection of things, the word remains singular because it's an individual word. After all, it's one pair, and that's just one thing, even though there are many things within it. Unless that is, you're referring to multiple collections of things. Then, you could pluralize it:

I bought a new pair of shoes

I bought two new pairs of shoes. 

Common Nouns vs Proper Nouns

Proper nouns are the opposite of common nouns in that they name a specific thing. Common nouns, as we saw, remain quite general. Pretty much any common noun can be given a name, and that would be its proper noun.

Here are some examples:

  • dog → Rover
  • city → Chicago
  • mountain → Himalayas
  • mom → Karen
  • country → France
  • gas → Nitrogen

This list shows a common noun followed by some examples of common proper nouns they are given. The specific name given to something or someone is a proper noun. Your name, for example, dear reader, is a proper noun. Proper nouns are always capitalized.

Many common nouns can be used as proper nouns if they become the official name or term for that thing.

For example:

  • ball → The Winter Ball
  • grandpa → Grandpa Alvin
  • stone → stone age
  • war → Second World War
  • west → West Hollywood
  • sir → Sir Elton John

To learn more about proper nouns, read our dedicated article.

Examples of Common Nouns

Now that we've covered what common nouns are let's take a look at some more examples. We'll start with a list of common nouns as they pertain to particular categories, and then we'll see sentences that use common nouns.


  • driver
  • manager
  • writer
  • artist
  • bartender
  • nurse
  • doctor
  • engineer


  • girl
  • woman
  • brother
  • uncle
  • friend
  • enemy
  • hero
  • angel


  • horse
  • pig
  • zebra
  • cow
  • giraffe
  • rabbit
  • squirrel
  • mouse


  • fear
  • courage
  • hope
  • love
  • hate
  • despair
  • happiness
  • joy


  • modesty
  • honesty
  • discipline
  • relentlessness
  • determination
  • confidence
  • tenacity
  • fearlessness


  • table
  • book
  • glass
  • tool
  • jar
  • candle
  • headphones
  • box


  • failure
  • success
  • celebration
  • graduation
  • election
  • exam
  • birthday
  • wedding


Food and drink

  • cucumber
  • pear
  • water
  • chocolate
  • nuts
  • stir-fry
  • donut
  • rice

I could go on and on because there are probably tens of thousands of common nouns in the English language. But I think you get the picture. So now let's take a look at some examples of these types of nouns used in a sentence.

Could you pass me the salt?

My sister is handing in her application tomorrow.

I have forty books on my to-be-read pile

Let's build a snowman.

What's your new boss like?

They lit a candle for us at church today.

The president is giving his official address this evening

You forgot to buy butter at the store.

Be careful when you cook with coconut oil.

Do you have any duct tape?

Using Common Nouns in Your Writing

Now you know what nouns are, their types, and how they differ from proper nouns. It's time to learn how to use them correctly in your writing.

Here are a few things you need to know about:

  • pronouns
  • subjects
  • determiners
  • adjectives
  • singular vs plural nouns
  • compound nouns


Pronouns help you avoid repetition throughout your sentences by replacing nouns. For every noun you use, there'll be a pronoun you can use instead. There are personal, relative, demonstrative, indefinite, reflexive, possessive, interrogative, and reciprocal pronouns.

Here are some examples of sentences with a noun followed by the same sentence with a pronoun to replace the noun. Notice how the second sentence flows best and eliminates repetition.

Your dog and my dog are close friends.
They are close friends
(personal pronoun)

My car is red because red is my favorite color.
My car is red because that is my favorite color.
(relative pronoun)

Whose house is the house?
Whose house is this?
(demonstrative pronoun)

I broke my pencil so now I need one more pencil.
I broke my pencil so now I need another

My grandma is talking to my grandma again.
My grandma is talking to herself again.

Is that bag your bag?
Is that bag yours?


Of all the flavors can you pick one flavor?
Which flavor would you like?


You and your husband are lucky that you have you and your husband.
You and your husband are lucky that you have each other.


The subject of a sentence is the thing that performs the action or has the action of the verb done to it. In other words, it's the central element of a sentence. Subjects are always nouns (or pronouns).

Look at the following sentences and notice how the common nouns are the subjects:

My new desk chair is very comfortable.

Your jewellry is beautiful.

The flowers are blossoming. 


Determiners go hand-in-hand with common nouns. There are six types of determiners: articles, possessive determiners, demonstrative determiners, quantifiers, interrogative determiners, and determiners of difference.

You'll almost always find a determiner of some kind with a noun unless it's a plural noun. In a noun phrase, you should always place the determiner before the noun, and the adjective, if there is one.

Look at the following examples where the determiner is underlined and the noun is in bold:

A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.

Let me give you a tour of my home.

Who brought those chocolate eclairs?


Adjectives help describe a noun or give more information about it. Predicate adjectives modify the subject of the sentence, typically following a linking verb. On the other hand, attributive adjectives tell us about the noun that's either the subject or the object of the sentence.

Here are some example sentences with the adjective underlined and the noun in bold:

Have you seen my new car parked outside?

Last night's show was hilarious.

You're a great dad.

Singular vs Plural Nouns

Nouns can be either singular or plural. If they are singular, that means there is only one. If they are plural, that means there are several. There are specific rules you should follow to make a noun plural. Often, that's just adding an -s or -es at the end. Sometimes, there's a little more to it.

Here are some examples of singular nouns turned into plural nouns:

As you can see, the rules for pluralization aren't always very straightforward. To learn more about plural nouns, check out our ultimate guide.

Compound Nouns

One final concept I wanted to mention as it relates to common nouns is compound nouns. Compound words are two or more words combined to form a new word. There are three types of compound words: open, closed, and hyphenated.

  • Open compound nouns are written as separate words, closed compounds have been joined together as a single word, and hyphenated compounds are separate words, but a hyphen joins them.

For example, 'hot' is an adjective, and 'dog' is a noun,' and together they make the noun 'hot dog,' which is a popular food. That's an open compound noun.

Let's take a look at some more examples:

  • cream cheese
  • swimming pool
  • airport
  • everyone
  • cold-blooded
  • editor-in-chief

Here's an article where you can learn more about compound nouns and other types of compound words.

Concluding Thoughts on Common Nouns

Well, that concludes this article on common nouns. I hope you found it helpful and that you now have a good understanding of what they are and how to use them in your writing.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Common nouns are words that identify a person, an animal, a place, a profession, a substance, a quality, and so on.
  • Common nouns contrast with proper nouns in that they name something general.
  • Never capitalize a common noun unless it begins a sentence.
  • Concrete, abstract, and collective nouns are the three kinds of common nouns.

This article is part of our Grammar Book, a free online database of grammar articles. If you found this article helpful, you might like some of our others. We've covered many aspects of English grammar and continue to cover more daily.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.