Definition

A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea. Whatever exists, we assume, can be named, and that name is a noun. A proper noun, which names a specific person, place, or thing (Carlos, Queen Marguerite, Middle East, Jerusalem, Malaysia, Presbyterianism, God, Spanish, Buddhism, the Republican Party), is almost always capitalized. A proper noun used as an addressed person’s name is called a noun of address. Common nouns name everything else, things that usually are not capitalized.

Categories of Nouns

  • Count Nouns: Things that can be counted (books, continents, dishes)
  • Mass Nouns: Things that can’t be counted (blood, water, air, energy)
  • Collective Nouns: Things that take a singular form but are composed of more than one individual person or items (jury, team, class)
  • Abstract Nouns: the kind of word that is not tangible (warmth, justice, grief, and peace)

Special Case: The Gerund

  • Gerunds: verbal that ends in -ing and functions as a noun. The term verbal indicates that a gerund, like the other two kinds of verbals, is based on a verb and therefore expresses action or a state of being. However, since a gerund functions as a noun, it occupies some positions in a sentence that a noun ordinarily would.
    • Traveling might satisfy your desire for new experiences.
    • My cat’s favorite activity is sleeping.

Compound Nouns

In English, words, particularly adjectives and nouns, are combined into compound structures in a variety of ways. And once they are formed, they sometimes metamorphose over time. A common pattern is that two words — fire fly, say — will be joined by a hyphen for a time — fire-fly — and then be joined into one word — firefly. There is only one sure way to know how to spell compounds in English: use an authoritative dictionary.

There are three forms of compound words:

the closed form, in which the words are melded together, such as firefly, secondhand, softball, childlike, redhead, keyboard, makeup, notebook;

the hyphenated form, such as daughter-in-law, master-at-arms, over-the-counter, six-pack, six-year-old, mass-produced;

the open form, such as post office, real estate, middle class, full moon, half sister, attorney general.

Finding a Noun

Formal Tests

    • Does the word contain a noun-making morpheme? organization, misconception, weirdness, statehood, government, democracy, philistinism, realtor, tenacity, violinist
    • Can the word take a plural-making morpheme? pencils, boxes
    • Can the word take a possessive-making morpheme? today’s, boys’

Function Tests

  • Without modifiers, can the word directly follow an article and create a grammatical unit (subject, object, etc.)? the state, an apple, a crate
  • Can it fill the slot in the following sentence: “(The) _________ seem(s) all right.” (or substitute other predicates such as unacceptable, short, dark, depending on the word’s meaning)?