English Grammar: Types of Nouns
Nouns are all around us in our daily lives. There is no escaping them. However, there are many types of nouns and grammar rules to go with them. A noun is a word that is used to name a person, place, thing, or idea. Understanding how nouns are classified doesn’t have to be as difficult as you might think. First, you will need to understand exactly what a noun is before examining the different types of nouns.
Examples of nouns:
person - child, teacher, parents, lawyer, tourist, quarterback, Mr. Lee
place - Egypt, school, restaurant, desert, house, city, store
thing - desk, pencil, apple, bridge, pet, boats, planes, computer
idea - beliefs, freedom, happiness, dreams, education
Exercise 1: Identifying Nouns
Proper nouns name a specific name of a person, place, thing, or idea. All proper nouns are capitalized because it specifying the name of something or someone. Examples of proper nouns include Mr. Scott, Sophie Johnson, Iraq, Ohio, Cairo, and Charlotte’s Web.
For every proper noun there is always a common noun that coincides with it. However, not all common nouns have a proper noun equivalent. One common example of this is the word dust. Dust is a common noun but because there is no specific kind of dust there is not a proper nouns equivalent.
Jamie bought a book. [Jamie is a proper noun because it is the name of a girl.]
Dubai is a beautiful city. [Dubai is a proper noun because it is the name of a city.]
Common nouns name a type of person, place, thing, or idea. Because common nouns usually don’t name anything specific they are not capitalized unless it is at the start of a sentence. Common nouns are often subdivided as either countable or uncountable nouns and classified as either abstract nouns or concrete nouns. Examples of common nouns include woman, man, country, state, city, book, language.
The table is covered in dust. [The words table and dust are both common nouns.]
The woman sat down. [The word woman is a common noun.]
Exercise 2: Proper Nouns vs. Common Nouns
Countable nouns are nouns in which we can count. Countable nouns can be either singular or plural. When a countable noun is plural it signifies more than one of something. Examples of countable nouns include man, woman, cat, dog, cup, plate, table, chair, book, box.
Examples singular and plural nouns:
Jamie’s cat is playful. [singular]
Timothy’s cats are hungry. [plural]
When a countable noun is singular, you should use one of the following words with it, such as a, an, the, this, or my.
I want to eat a banana.
Where are my keys?
Please hand me the newspaper.
In most cases when a countable noun is plural, it can be used alone. However sometimes you can use words such as some, any, a few, these, or many with the countable noun.
I like milkshakes.
Milkshakes are cold.
I have many friends.
Uncountable nouns, also called mass nouns, are nouns in which we cannot divide individually. In other words, we cannot count them. Examples of uncountable nouns include love, music, advice, money, happiness, sugar, water, news, furniture. Uncountable nouns are typically treated as if they are singular, therefore you should use a singular verb.
This advice is very valuable.
Your artwork looks beautiful.
You also shouldn’t use an indefinite article (a/an) in front of an uncountable noun. For example, you wouldn’t say “an advice” or “a sugar”. However you can say “a something of” before an uncountable noun. You can also use the words some, any, a little, or much in front of an uncountable noun.
a piece of advice
a grain of sand
a bottle of milk
Do you have any sugar?
Stanley gave us some news.
I only have a little money left.
I can’t find any information on the topic.
Some nouns can be countable and uncountable depending on their usage, which often changes their meaning. For example, drinks, such as water, coffee, and juice, are typically considered to be uncountable nouns but when referring to a cup of coffee or a glass of something to drink then it becomes a countable noun.
This house has ten rooms
Is there room for Jessica at the table?
Exercise 3: Countable vs. Uncountable Nouns
Exercise 4: Concrete vs. Abstract Nouns
A concrete noun is a noun that is perceived by one of the senses. This simply means that if you can touch it, see it, hear it, smell it, or taste it, then the noun is a concrete noun. For example, clocks and be physically seen. You can even touch them to set the correct time. However, time has no physical existence. It is merely a concept so it is considered an abstract noun instead of a concrete noun.
Examples of concrete nouns:
cats, mug, food, flower, water, lamp, television, telephone, clock.
An abstract noun names a characteristic, a quality, or an idea. So basically, it includes nouns that you cannot touch, see, hear, smell, or taste physically.
Examples of abstract nouns:
strength, confidence, ambition, joy, beauty, time
Collective nouns are nouns that name a group of people, places, things, or ideas. They can be used as both singular and plural. Collective nouns are often used to describe groups of animals or groups of people. They are also used to describe groups within business and governmental organizations.
Examples of collective nouns:
family, team, dancers, fleet, flock, herd, staff, department
Exercise 5: Identifying Collective Nouns
Compound nouns are made up of two or more words that are used together to signify a single noun. Sometimes these nouns are written as one word (a compound word) or separated into two words. Some compound nouns can be written as hyphenated words, as well.
Examples of compound nouns:
one word - newspaper, sidewalk, driveway
separate words - prime minister, fire drill, telephone pole
hyphenated words - son-in-law, great-grandmother, jack-o’-lantern
Exercise 6: Identifying Adjectival Nouns
Adjectival nouns are nouns that function as adjective. A noun that is placed in front of another noun to help modify the noun make the modifying noun an adjective. Typically you would use an article in front of the word, such as a, an, or the.
The young boys played outside all day. [The word young is used as an adjective]
The young are more active in the summer. [The word young is being used as a noun]
Adverbial nouns are adverbs that function as nouns depending on how it is used in the sentence. These types of nouns are usually used as modifiers to provide more details to the verb or adjective to give it more value. Often adverbial nouns refer to some kind of measurement such as distance or direction. They answer questions such as, “how far”, “how long”, “how much”, or “which way”.
Samir drove east. [Samir drove which way?]
Joseph walked south for an hour. [Joseph walked which way? Joseph walked for how long?]
This candy bar is only worth a dollar. [How much is the candy bar?]
An animate noun is a noun that refers to things that are alive such as people, animals, and other living things. Some examples of animate nouns include trees, deer, squirrel, boy, girl, dog, flower.
An inanimate noun is a noun that refers to something that is not living, such as paper, bed, dresser, or computer. Inanimate nouns are not typically found in possessive form by adding an apostrophe and “s”. However there are a few exceptions, such as “yesterday’s news”.
the car’s tire [incorrect]
the car tire [correct]
Exercise 7: Animate Nouns vs. Inanimate Nouns
There are many websites that provide free worksheets, games, and activities to give you extra practice when it comes to classifying and using nouns. Some of these include:
The Slouch Noun Game
© 2014 Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan