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Types of Nouns

Nouns are an important part of speech in English, probably second only to verbs. It is difficult to say much without using a noun.

There are several different types of English nouns. It is often useful to recognize what type a noun is because different types sometimes have different rules. This helps you to use them correctly.

Common Nouns and Proper Nouns

Common Nouns

Most nouns are common nouns. Common nouns refer to people, places and things in general like chair or dog. Any noun that is not a name is a common noun.

Examples: teacher, car, music, danger, receipt

Proper Nouns

Names of people, places or organizations are proper nouns. Your name is a proper noun. London is a proper noun. United Nations is a proper noun.

Rule: Proper nouns always start with a capital letter.

Examples: Jane, Thailand, Sunday, James Bond, Einstein, Superman, Game of Thrones, Shakespeare

Note: Adjectives that we make from proper nouns also usually start with a capital letter, for example Shakespearian, Orwellian.

Concrete Nouns and Abstract Nouns

Concrete Nouns

Concrete nouns are physical things that you can touch.

Examples: man, rice, head, car, furniture, mobile phone

Abstract Nouns

Abstract nouns are the opposite of concrete nouns. They are things that you cannot touch. Abstract nouns are ideas, concepts and feelings.

Examples: happiness, courage, danger, truth

Countable Nouns and Uncountable Nouns

Countable Nouns

(also called count nouns)

You can count countable nouns. Countable nouns have singular and plural forms.

Examples:  ball, boy, cat, person

Uncountable Nouns

(also called mass nouns)

You cannot count uncountable nouns. You need to use "measure words" to quantify them.

Rule: We never use uncountable nouns with the indefinite article (a/an). Uncountable nouns are always singular.

Examples: water, happiness, cheese

Collective Nouns

A collective noun denotes a group of individuals.

Examples: class (group of students), pride (group of lions), crew (group of sailors)

Rule: Collective nouns can be treated as singular or plural. More about this at rules of subject-verb agreement with collective nouns.

Compound Nouns

A compound noun is a noun that is made with two or more words. Most compound nouns are [noun + noun] or [adjective + noun]. Each compound noun acts as a single unit and can be modified by adjectives and other nouns.

Compound nouns have three different forms:

  1. open or spaced - space between words (bus stop)
  2. hyphenated - hyphen between words (mother-in-law)
  3. closed or solid - no space or hyphen between words (football)

Examples: cat food, blackboard, breakfast, full moon, washing machine, software

Note that all nouns are more than one type. For example, common nouns can be concrete nouns or abstract nouns. (The common noun danger is an abstract noun.)

And the same noun can change its type according to meaning. For example, the noun light can be uncountable (light in general) or countable (lamp).