Nouns are part of the open class.  Traditionally, they are described as ‘naming’ words. This is a very loose definition and it does not always help us to recognise a noun. We also need to look at the form, the position in a sentence and the words that precede and follow it.

5 things to know about nouns

  • they often have words like thea, some (determiners) in front of them
    • the police, a keyboard, some courage, every Friday, many birds
  • they can be formed by adding suffixes to other word classes
    • rapid (adjective) + -ity = rapidity, contend (verb) + -ant = contendant, good (adjective) + -ness goodness 
  • other word classes can sometimes function as nouns
    • The old are not always treated well in hospital. (adjective)   Singing is meant to lift your spirits. (verb – we call it a verbal noun in this context, traditionally known as a gerund)
  • they can take -s or -es inflections (regular nouns) or sometimes a spelling change (irregular nouns) to mark a plural form
    • houses, tomatoes,  fairies, children, mice
  • they can take  -‘s or -s’ inflections to mark a possessive form
    • John’s present, the girls’ books

Key terms

You need to be able to understand and use the following terms:

Common and proper nouns



Concrete and abstract nouns



Count, non-count and collective nouns


Compound nouns


Writing about nouns

Nouns are one of the most important groups of words – we use them in almost all spoken and written texts. Identifying them is the first step, but the second is being able to comment on their effect in spoken and written texts. The key terms  suggest the main areas of interest. For instance, estate agents use many concrete nouns in their advertising material; love poems and political speeches are likely to use abstract nouns to reflect; and recipes use count nouns to define important quantities. Identifying interesting examples and exploring their meaning is the key to good analysis.


For additional exercises like this with notes and commentaries, see Mastering Practical Grammar (pages 39-44)

2 responses to “Nouns

  1. Pingback: Nouns are up and running … | Sara Thorne English Language

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