What Is a Noun?
Defining a Noun
- They come with articles. If it follows "a", "an", or "the" fairly closely, it’s probably a noun. If there’s an adjective in there, it’ll be between the article and the noun, so you’ll have to ask yourself, “Is this something I can feel, see, smell, taste or touch? Or does it describe something I can feel, see, smell, taste or touch?” If it’s the former, it’s a noun. If it’s the latter, it’s probably an adjective.
- They are described by adjectives. If something is described as being blue, old, shiny, hot or wonderful (all adjectives), it’s probably a noun.
- They act as subjects. Generally, the subject of a sentence is the thing that comes right before the verb. When you say, “The Dingo ate my baby”, the subject is “the Dingo”. It comes right before the verb (ate). Subjects are a little tricky because they can consist of just one word or a whole, long phrase that can contain several nouns. Gerund and infinitive verbs can also act as subjects of a sentence, but in that role, they are serving as nouns. Why? Because nouns act as subjects.
- They act as objects and complements. Complements follow state-of-being verbs like “be”, “seem”, and “become”. Objects follow other verbs as well as prepositions. In the sentence, “Amy is a teacher”, the complement is “a teacher”. In the sentence, “Billy hit a teacher”, the object is “a teacher”. In the sentence, “I am sitting near a teacher”, the prepositional object is “a teacher”. In all cases, “teacher” is a noun.
- They are names. All names of all things (people, cities, towns, counties, states, countries, buildings, monuments, rivers, mountains, lakes, oceans, streams, natural disasters, books, plays, magazines, articles, songs, works of art, etc.) are nouns.
Not all nouns do all of these things all of the time, and not all the words that do some of these things are nouns, but by and large, if it looks like a noun and acts like a noun, it’s probably a noun.
- Nouns whose singular forms end in s, z, x, ch, or sh need es to become plural (boss-bosses, box-boxes, watch-watches, bush-bushes).
- Certain nouns that end in o also need es to become plural (potato-potatoes, hero-heroes, volcano-volcanoes).
- For nouns that end in f or fe, change the “f” to a “v”, and add es (knife-knives, wolf-wolves).
- If a singular noun ends in a single consonant followed by y, change the “y” to “i”, and add es (lady-ladies, spy-spies).
Common vs. Proper Nouns
Common nouns are not capitalized (unless they begin a sentence, of course), but proper nouns are always capitalized.
Count vs. Non-Count Nouns
Non-count (or non-countable/uncountable) nouns are those that we do not generally pluralize. Most liquids, powders and grains fall into this category. Even though there are many corn flakes in your bowl, you say you eat cereal for breakfast, not cereals. And you put sugar on it, not sugars, and you drink coffee with it, not coffees.
We sometimes pluralize non-count nouns when we are referring to the container or form in which they come. You order two coffees (one for you, one for your friend), but what you really mean is two cups of coffee. You’re counting the cups, not the liquid.
Concrete vs. Abstract Nouns
A noun is any word that does one or more of these noun-y things.
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