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Ken Ward's Writing Pages
Writing: Grammar: Parts of Speech

Main Page: Writing Contents
Page Contents

  1. Nouns
      1. Common and Proper Nouns
      2. Identifying Nouns
        1. Determiners
          1. Note on Using the Tests
          2. Examples of Nouns and Non-Nouns
        2. Plurals
        3. Possession
      3. Abstract and Concrete Nouns
        1. What are concrete and abstract nouns?
        2. Examples of Concrete and Abstract Nouns
      4. Nominalizations
        1. Nominalizations summarizing Previous Ideas
        2. Nominalizations naming the Verb's Subject or Object
        3. Common Ideas
      5. General and Specific Nouns
      6. Countable and Uncountable Nouns (Mass Nouns)
      7. Collective Nouns (Group Nouns)
      8. Quantity Nouns


A noun is the name of a person, a place, a thing or an idea. Sometimes a noun is the name of an action.
person man, woman, child
place ocean, desert, wood, farm
thing cabbage, hammer,
idea hope, plan, memory
action intention, thinking, running

Common and Proper Nouns

Common nouns describe groups or members of groups; whereas, proper nouns identify a unique example. Proper names are usually capitalised.
Common Noun Proper Noun
man Tom
aircraft Tiger Moth
religion Christianity
entertainers The Beatles
nation England
In English, the days of the week and the months are capitalised:
January, February ... November, December
 but the seasons are not:
winter, spring, summer, autumn
(Although the seasons are capitalised in USA).
Directions are not capitalised:
north, west, south, east 

Identifying Nouns

Proper nouns are easy to identify because they are the names of particular people or things. For instance, Rob, Betty, Lorraine.

Common nouns have the following properties:


Common nouns can be preceded by determiners: a, the, some, a few, my, ...

If a word is a common noun, then the following sentence makes sense when the word is inserted:
My [insert noun] (is/are here).
For instance, house is a noun, so:
My house is here, 
makes sense.

The word happy, however, isn't a noun, so:
My happy is here,
does not make sense.
Note on Using the Tests
Most tests show whether a word could be a noun - sometimes. They do not indicate the word is a noun in the given sentence. To do this, we need to apply the test in that sentence. Consider this sentence:
The delicate and time-consuming work is important. 
Using our test [My [insert noun] (is/are here).]:
My work is here.
makes sense. So the word work can sometimes be a noun. (Sometimes it is a verb, of course).

To determine whether a word is a noun, we need to apply the test in the sentence. In the sentence:
The delicate and time-consuming work is important.
We note that 'work' is preceded by the determiner 'The', so it is a noun.

In this sentence:
They work till they drop.
We cannot precede the word work with my:
My work till they drop. x.gif
Therefore work isn't a noun in this sentence. (It is, of course, a verb, in that sentence).

Examples of Nouns and Non-Nouns
Here are some examples of applying the test on nouns and non-nouns:
Nouns Non-Nouns
My cat is here tick.gif My entertaining is here x.gif
My bread is heretick.gif My starchy is here x.gif
My principal is heretick.gif My quickly is here x.gif
My dollars are heretick.gif My full is here x.gif
My envelope is heretick.gif My exceptional is here x.gif


Nouns often have plurals; whereas other parts of speech do not. So if a word has a plural, it is a noun. Uncountable Nouns, however, do not have plurals.
Singular Plural
cat cats
man men
fish fishes
formula formulae
MP (Member of Parliament) MPs
Nowadays, in Standard English, acronyms do not have periods. So M.P. becomes MP. Plurals are made by adding an s – MPs. If periods are retained, then apostrophe s is used – M.P.'s. The 's plural is sometimes used when confusion might result – Dot the i's and crosss the t's, 1's and 2's (because 1s might look like Is, and 2's for consistency).


We can check whether a word is a noun, by asking whether it has a possessive form. For instance:
Noun Possessive Form
dog the dog's dinner.
Charles Charles' dinner.
yesterday yesterday's error.
We indicate possession by adding the apostrophe (') s. If Mary is the owner of the book we write – Mary's book. When the word for the owner ends in s anyway, we would normally add only an apostrophe at the end of the word. So we write and say the boys' school. However, especially with proper names, we add the apostrophe s when sound requires it – Charles's book, Odysseus's Quest. But ... if this would mean we end up saying a sound like "iz-iz", we do not add the final s. So if the owner of the book is Mr Bridges, we write and say Mr Bridges' book (without an s after the apostrophe).
Notes: In older English, Charles' book and Odysseus' Quest would have been correct, although almost everyone would have said Charles's book, although some might have tried to say Odysseus' Quest (because it sounds more literary).
The apostrophe is not used with pronouns – its, yours, ours.
The apostrophe is sometimes called a mark of elision to indicate some letters have been omitted – it's going (it is going), it'll go fine (it will go fine).

Abstract and Concrete Nouns

What are concrete and abstract nouns?

In grammar, it is often said:
Concrete nouns name something you can see or touch. They name people, objects, animals and places. Abstract nouns name things you cannot see, touch, etc. They name qualities, ideas, states of mind and events and actions.

The following nouns are abstract: walk, jump, intelligence and embarrassment. However, a thoughtful reader might object and say:
I saw Mr Jones take a walk with her dog. tick.gif
I saw the record-breaking jump on tv. tick.gif
I can hear the intelligence in her words. s_surprised.gif [Hear intelligence? ]
The embarrassment was obvious [clearly seen]. tick.gif
Actually, abstract nouns are nouns that name things that we clearly cannot see or feel. For instance, luck, freedom and justice are more or less intangible. With other abstract nouns, we might be unsure. After careful thought, we might wonder whether we can see 'a walk'. Or see a 'jump'. Can we really hear 'intelligence', and see 'embarrassment'. It seems we infer 'intelligence' and 'embarrassment' rather than perceive them directly through the senses – we see a red face and infer embarrassment; we hear someone speaking logically and infer they are intelligent. And while we can see someone or something jumping or walking, when these become nouns – 'the jump' and 'the walk' – we have omitted or abstracted the subject. In:
I saw the jump on the tv.
We note there cannot be a 'real' jump without a jumper (subject), and the jumper has been omitted or abstracted. So 'jump' is an abstract noun. In writing 'the jump' we have made a verb into a noun and abstracted the person, animal or thing that did 'the jumping' (jumping is also an abstract noun). If the writer wished to avoid the abstract noun 'jump', she would have written:
I saw the horse jump the hurdle on the tv.
We can perceive a horse jumping, but we cannot perceive the jump without the horse, so 'jump' is not sensory after all.

In a similar way, when we make an adjective or an adverb a noun, we abstract some important grammatical part, such as a subject and the word becomes an abstract noun.
I can hear the intelligence in her words. r_arrow.gif I heard her speaking intelligently [adverb].
The embarrassment was obvious [clearly seen]. r_arrow.gif I could see he was embarrassed. 

Examples of Concrete and Abstract Nouns

Concrete nouns are perceivable by the senses.

Concrete Nouns
People Tom, woman, man, doctor, policeman,
Objects turnip, wind, bed, test-tube, chair, basket, atom, DNA, cell, tree
Animals puppy, lion, animal, germ, virus,
Places England, country, island, mountain, lake

Abstract nouns are not perceivable by the senses. For instance, we can see a person is joyful, but we cannot perceive joy apart from someone being joyful. The word joy is therefore an abstract noun.
Abstract Nouns
Qualities intelligence, beauty, ugliness, kindness, strength, vulnerability, truth, heat, 
Ideas humanity, freedom,  abstraction, energy,  force, luck, justice, injustice, misfortune, grammar, calculus, ideas,  disease, (the common) cold, 
States of Mind love, hate, fear, anger, imagination, courage, loneliness, happiness, sadness, bravery, cowardice, embarrassment, joy, confidence, bitterness, grief, boredom, cheerfulness, cognition, depression, dream, 
Actions and Events walk, sleep, jump, explosion, journey, childhood, progress, growth, year, day, week, Tuesday, March, war, history, 
The classes above are not exclusive. So a word, such as day could be an action (series of actions) or event, or an idea.


A nominalization is a noun which has been made from another part of speech, such as a verb, adjective or adverb. They are abstract nouns.

Nominalizations summarizing Previous Ideas

The nominalizations are shown in bold.
By excluding details, you produce an abstract idea. Therefore, an abstraction has fewer details than the original.  tick

He campaigned against violent behaviour on the streets. He would not tolerate street violence. tick

They selected the important books. This selection was controversial. tick

Nominalizations naming the Verb's Subject or Object

Nominalizations can be used to replace a wordy subject or object. In the sentences below, the subjects or objects are in italic, and the nominalizations in bold.
I was wondering about what they concluded.x
I was wondering about their conclusions.tick

He inferred a number of things about the new substance. What he had inferred, however, was invalid.x
He inferred a number of things about the new substance. However, his inferences were invalid.tick

Common Ideas

A nominalization can be used to succinctly express a common idea, when it becomes a short-hand way of referring to a complex idea.
For the new year, I resolved to do some new things.x
I made some New Year Resolutions.tick

He believed that individuals should be free to inspect what organizations held about them on computer.x
He believed in freedom of information.tick

They objected to women being allowed to ask doctors to abort their foetuses, for non-medical reasons. x
The objected to abortion on demand.tick

General and Specific Nouns

A general noun or expression can be concrete or abstract.
General and Specific Nouns
General More Specific Even More Specific
animal carnivore cat, lion, tiger
furniture table, chair, sofa, divan
food meat, vegetables, fruit, fish, beef, turnip, apple, cod
subjects mathematics, English, science calculus, grammar, chemistry
sport running, swimming, football, cricket sprint, back-stroke, soccer, bowling or batting
business shop bakery, grocers, supermarket
humanity people men, women, children
mind cognition, affect thinking, remembering, loving, hating

Countable and Uncountable Nouns (Mass Nouns)

Most nouns have a plural and a singular form. For instance:
Singular Plural
man men
dog dogs
idea ideas
beach beaches
mind minds
All such nouns are countable.

Other nouns are uncountable in certain uses. For instance:
fish, bread, art, luck, greed, flour, data
We cannot use the determiner a before uncountable nouns: we can, however, use the determiners the and some. In American English, data is regarded as plural, but in English it is singular:
 The data is ready. tick.gif
The data are ready. x.gif (tick.gifAmerican)

We can sometimes quantify such nouns using words like:
slice, piece, bits, ounces, snippets
For example:
Singular Plural
a slice of bread some slices of bread
a piece of fish some pieces of fish
an ounce of salt several ounces of salt
a snippet of music several snippets of music
a book on film several books on film

Uncountable nouns are sometimes called mass nouns. We think of them as a mass. For instance, fish is uncountable when used to refer to food, but is countable when we think of a number of individual fish, when its plural is fish or fishes. Similarly, we can say:
I spent the weekend watching films.
When we think of watching several films. But when we think of the subject, film, we do not use the plural. We might say:
I spent the weekend studying film. (Reading books about film or films, watching films, etc).

Collective Nouns (Group Nouns)

Collective nouns identify groups of things. Examples are:
audience, council, jury, flock, herd

The group is considered as a unit.
The Union refuses to negotiate.
The jury is hung.
The staff has objected.
The team plays well.
The flock turned and flew away
The herd is about to stampede.

Collective nouns are normally singular, except when this seems obviously wrong.

Considered as a unit. Considered as a number of Individuals
The audience is quiet The audience are clapping their hands.
The flock of birds is heading North. Now, the flock of birds are competing for food.
The team is working together. The team are squabbling.
The family is going to the cinema. The family are at loggerheads.
For instance:
The audience is clappings its hand. x.gif
is obviously wrong.

Quantity Nouns

In the following sentences, the quantity nouns take a plural verb:
A number of books are on the table.
A few people are coming today.
One half of the animals are trained.
The couple over there are available.

In the following sentences, the quantity nouns take a singular verb:
The number of applicants is small.
The quantity of sand is large.
The weight of the truck is ten tons.
The measure of success is profit

Where the number is definite, we use a singular verb:
The number of applicants has increased recently. tick.gif

But when it is indefinite, we use a plural form:
A number of people are coming. tick.gif
In the following sentence, the author says a combination ... are instead of a combination ... is.
A combination of increased physical activity and suitable weight reducing diets are recommended for overweight/obese adults who wish to lose weight. x

Ken Ward's Writing Pages