Nouns are a part of speech essential to the English language. Nouns allow you to express yourself fully. Read this article to find out more about nouns, what they are, the different types, and how to use them. This article is part of our free online grammar book.
In short, a noun is a naming word, clause, or phrase that you can use to refer to a person, place, or thing.
The word "noun" comes from the Latin "name."
The most basic explanation for nouns is that they name a thing. They are one of the basic building blocks for a sentence; without them, sentences wouldn't make any sense.
Let's look at the different roles a noun can take on.
A noun can identify a person by name or using descriptive words, such as "boy" or "teacher." Let's see some examples of this in practice. In the following sentences, the noun is underlined.
Look at all the people walking by.
Come on, team, are you ready?
I'm looking for David.
Nouns can also identify a place. Here are some examples where, once again, the noun is underlined:
I'm going home.
Have you ever been to Australia?
I can't talk; I'm at work right now.
And finally, nouns can also identify a thing. That might be an object, an animal, or an idea. For example:
Can I borrow your pencil?
I love dogs.
She showed a lot of bravery today.
You'll come across two different variants of nouns: proper and common. Let's take a deeper look into each of these.
You might have noticed in the above examples that some nouns take a capital letter. Those are proper nouns, and they use the specific name of a thing. They should always begin with a capital letter. Let's have a look at some more examples of proper nouns:
Let's go to New York City!
Have you tried the new Pop-Tarts?
I can't wait 'til we land on Mars.
Aside from proper nouns, there's another kind of noun: common nouns.
Common nouns are usually concrete, abstract, or collective.
Concrete nouns are precisely that: concrete. You can feel them with one or all of the five senses. This isn't the case with abstract nouns: they can't be heard, seen, smelled, touched, or tasted. And collective nouns refer to a group of people, places, or things.
We'll use some of our previous examples and classify them into the different types of common nouns.
Let's start with concrete nouns:
I'm looking for David.
Can I borrow your pencil?
And now for abstract nouns:
I'm going home.
She showed a lot of bravery today.
And finally, collective nouns:
Look at all the people walking by.
Come on, team, are you ready?
Now that we've covered what exactly a noun is and the different disguises a noun can take, let's look at the different types of nouns you could encounter. There is, of course, the noun in its most basic form, made up of a single word. But there are many other types, too. Read on.
Compound nouns consist of two or more words, usually because an adjective or another noun is modifying the noun.
Sometimes they are connected by a hyphen, and sometimes they aren't. Here are some sentences that contain compound nouns, which you'll see underlined.
Wait for me in the car park.
We're getting married at the town hall.
Is the washing machine still running?
My mother-in-law is coming to visit.
Let's grab a hot dog.
Have you seen my water bottle?
I'm a jack-of-all-trades.
There are also closed or solid compound nouns, which are made up of two words merged into one, such as:
Some nouns indicate the gender they are referring to. For example, "rooster" is clearly masculine, and "hen" is feminine. Let's have a look at some more examples of gender-specific nouns. We'll start with feminine nouns:
Now here are some masculine gender-specific nouns:
A gerund is a noun that looks like the present participle form of a verb. You can spot a gerund quite easily since it ends with -ing. Let's look at some examples.
I love swimming.
In the above sentence, "swimming" is the gerund, or in other words, the noun. It looks like the verb "swim" in the present participle form, but it isn't acting as a verb. The verb is "love." "Swimming" is the noun.
Here are some more examples:
I can't get on a plane; I have a fear of flying.
Dancing makes me happy.
I plan to go out exploring the city all day.
Cooking is my favorite pastime.
I need to do a bit more studying.
Though gerunds are nouns, they do maintain verb-like properties. They can take on a direct object and be modified by an adverb.
A verbal noun is a noun that looks like a verb. What, then, differentiates it from a gerund?
While gerunds have verb-like properties, verbal nouns do not. They are to be treated just like a noun. This means they can be modified by adjectives, used in the plural form, and have different endings.
Gerunds always end in -ing.
Let's see some examples of sentences that contain verbal nouns. The verbal noun is underlined.
I find your sending of these letters highly inappropriate.
The loud wailing of a baby upsets me.
The building of the Statue of Liberty took nine years.
Verbal nouns are not to be confused with deverbal nouns, which are essentially the noun form of a verb. For example:
You can make a noun possessive by adding 's at the end. A possessive noun shows ownership: who something belongs to. Let's have a look at some examples of possessive nouns. You'll see them underlined in the following sentences:
Look out for the dog's bone.
That's Maria's hat.
The first grade's artwork is displayed in the hallway.
It's the instructor's job to teach you to drive.
Have you borrowed my brother's car?
Attributive nouns are nouns that function as modifiers for another noun. They work just like adjectives. They are also known as converted adjectives, noun adjuncts, or noun premodifiers. Take a look at the following examples. You'll see the attributive noun underlined. Notice that the word that follows the attributive noun is a regular noun (in bold).
John's looking flashy in his new sports car.
I'm excited for my son to begin middle school.
I'll make you chicken soup.
Excuse me, could you point me toward the ladies' bathroom?
I love driving through the city streets at night.
Appositive nouns have something in common with attributive nouns: they provide additional information about the noun. But what sets them apart is that they don't function as adjectives. They add richness to the sentence by giving further detail about the topic.
Here are some sentences containing appositive nouns or noun phrases (we'll talk about those later). You'll see them underlined.
My teacher Mrs Besser. is very strict.
I bought pizzas for dinner and strawberries, my favorite fruit, for dessert.
My new job, assistant manager for the fresh goods department, is very fulfilling.
Have you seen the movie The Shape of Water?
My beautiful Collie Billy was my favorite dog.
Notice that sometimes the appositive noun or noun phrase is surrounded by commas. That's the case if the additional information provided is not essential to the sentence's meaning. These are called non-restrictive appositive nouns, and they are always offset by commas, dashes, or brackets.
Suppose there is no punctuation around the appositive noun or noun phrase. In that case, it's a restrictive appositive noun, so the information contributes to the sentence's meaning. Without it, the sentence wouldn't have the same meaning. For example, if the name "Billy" weren't mentioned in the final example, then we wouldn't know which dog was the speaker's favorite, which is the whole point of the sentence. That is why it's a restrictive appositive noun, and it isn't offset by any punctuation.
A singular noun refers to a single person, place, or thing. In contrast, a plural noun refers to more than one. It could be two or a hundred, sixty, or a thousand and one. The amount doesn't matter, so long as it is more than one.
As a standard, a noun comes as singular; to pluralize it, you must change its ending. Read on for the standard rules of pluralization in English.
For these words, add 'es' to the end of the word to get the plural form. For example:
Sometimes, you need to double the 'z' at the end of the word before adding 'es.' Like in the following examples:
Add 's' or 'es' to pluralize words ending with 'o'. For example:
With these words, there is no rule to determine which of the two it should be - 's' or 'es.' You just have to memorize these.
The rule for pluralizing words ending in 'f' or 'fe' states that these nouns should either end in 'ves' or 's.' Again, there's no rule to differentiate the two endings; you just have to know.
To complicate the matter, some words do not follow any of the above rules. They either change entirely in the plural form or don't change at all. Here are some examples:
Another time when the general rules don't apply is with words ending in 'is.' Though these words end in 's,' they don't follow the same rule. Instead, we change the 'is' to an 'es.' For example:
Also, watch out for words that end in 'us.' Often, these need the 'us' removed and an 'i' added on at the end. Yes, this is a bit of an odd one! For example:
Some nouns are countable, while others are uncountable. As you probably guessed, countable nouns refer to people, places, or things that can be counted, and uncountable nouns cannot be counted.
Here are some examples of countable nouns:
Here are some examples of uncountable nouns:
Uncountable nouns are also sometimes called 'non-countable' or 'mass nouns.'
Earlier, we referred to concrete, abstract, and collective nouns. You'll notice that abstract nouns usually fall into the uncountable category.
**a note on rice** Though rice is technically countable (you could count each grain one by one), we call it uncountable because it would be unreasonable to expect anyone to count it. Other similarly difficult-to-count nouns, like hair and sand, are considered uncountable. You might hear someone say at a restaurant, "Can I have two rices"? They would be referring to two bowls of rice or two different types of rice. They aren't asking for two grains of rice.
Now that you know what a noun is and the different kinds of nouns you might encounter, it's only fitting that you should know more about the various functions a noun can play in a sentence.
A noun's function tells you a lot about the sentence because they show how the different parts of the sentence relate to one another. This can help decipher the meaning more accurately.
Let's dive into the different functions a noun can play. Please note that when we say the word "noun" in the following sections, we are referring to simple nouns, noun clauses, and noun phrases. More on what exactly these are will be revealed later, but suffice it to say for now that nouns involve just one word, while noun clauses and phrases include a set of words that, together, play the role of a noun.
All complete sentences must have a subject, which is the main thing the rest of the sentence revolves around. Sometimes, the subject is a noun. Let's review some examples of sentences that have noun subjects. You'll see the subject underlined.
That incessant howling is unbearable.
The houses are ready for the open day.
Skiing is a thrilling sport.
The town square is buzzing right now.
My son-in-law is tall.
Mum doesn't want me playing outside after dark.
San Francisco, my favorite city, has fantastic cafes.
Ed's car is at the pound.
English Grammar is easy.
Why is the water so cold?
In the examples above, you can find all the different types of nouns we learned about in the previous section. Why not challenge yourself and see if you can name each noun type?
Subject complements follow linking verbs in a sentence. Linking verbs describe a state rather than an action. Here are some examples of linking verbs:
Adjectives, pronouns, and nouns can all be subject complements. Their job is to give more information about the subject.
When the subject complement is a noun, this is also known as "predicate nominative" or "predicate noun."
Let's take a look at some examples in a sentence. You'll see the subject in bold and the noun as subject complement underlined.
My favorite teacher is Mr. Miller.
Dancing is my passion.
You'll be a perfect addition to the team.
He became a fine young man.
Smith is my mother's maiden name.
Don't you think they seem like reliable people?
I think you look like the perfect bride.
A direct object follows and receives the action of a transitive verb. Transitive verbs, unlike linking verbs, imply action.
We'll use some examples to demonstrate. You'll see the noun as a direct object underlined.
I'm calling my mum.
The storm completely destroyed the beachfront.
She ate the entire tub of ice cream in one go.
If a direct object is the primary recipient of the verb's action, an indirect object is a secondary recipient. To find the indirect object, look for the verb, find the noun that the verb acts upon, and then spot the other noun in the sentence.
For example, in the following sentence, the verb is "placed," the direct object is "drinks," and the indirect object is "plates." That's because it is the "drinks" that were placed. The plates play a passive role in the scenario.
The server placed the drinks next to our plates.
Let's see some more examples:
I loaned Mrs. Besser my laptop.
Will you tell the audience a joke?
My mum feeds stray dogs biscuits.
An object complement does for an object what a subject complement does for a subject. If you need to refresh your memory, jump a few sections back to the part titled "subject complements."
So an object complement directly follows and describes the direct object. S
Sometimes, that object complement is a noun. Let's see some examples where that's the case. You'll find the noun as object complement underlined:
What were you thinking when you made Leila team captain?
We're naming our daughter Callie.
She considered the whole thing a farce.
A noun can also act as the object of a preposition. You would find it, therefore, right after a preposition. Here's a list of prepositions to refresh your memory:
Here are some example sentences where the preposition is in bold and the noun as the object of the preposition is underlined.
We sat in the light of the moon.
Sally is hiding under the table.
I'm trying to get up onto the roof.
Typically when we think of a noun, we picture just one word. But nouns can actually be made up of more than one word. In fact, there can be quite a lot of words in a noun phrase or noun clause!
A noun clause comprises of several words but does not constitute a complete sentence. It has a subject and a verb. The paradox is that it doesn't necessarily contain a noun, although the clause as a whole functions as a noun.
I've seen that report he worked so hard on.
Do you know who I mean?
I love dancing to techno music.
A great way to know for sure whether you're looking at a noun clause is to try to replace it with a pronoun. Let's try this with the examples above.
I've seen it.
Do you know him?
I love that.
Noun phrases include the noun and the rest of the words that complement it.
They contain a noun but no verb.
An easy way to tell the difference between noun phrases and noun clauses is that phrases are found within clauses.
How much is that doggy in the window?
The box of dinosaurs is his favorite toy.
These vegan croissants are amazing.
As with noun clauses, you can use pronouns to figure out which part of the sentence is the noun clause. We'll try that using the examples above:
How much is it?
It is his favorite toy.
They are amazing.
Top tip! When a noun phrase is the subject of a verb, make sure to conjugate the verb according to the main noun (subject-verb agreement).
For example, in the noun phrase "the box of dinosaurs," "box" is the main noun and is singular, so we use the verb "is" and not "are."
Hopefully, you found that straightforward enough. We wanted to include everything you might need to know about nouns without it being too overwhelming.
Because yes, there's a lot to remember! But there's no need to memorize all this information in one go. Why not bookmark it and return to it each time you doubt it? Head to the table of contents at the top of this page, click on the section you need, and you'll be taken straight there.
Over time and with practice, this will come naturally to you... just like everything with the English language!
To learn more about the English language, check out our Grammar Book.