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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

  • Have you seen my dog?
  • The books are on your desk.
  • ...the pursuit of happiness.

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

  • Let me introduce you to Mary.
  • The capital of Italy is Rome.
  • He is the chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
  • I was born in November.

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

  • How many stars are there in the universe?
  • Have you met James Bond?
  • Pour the water down the drain.

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

  • He has great strength.
  • Who killed President Kennedy is a real mystery.
  • Sometimes it takes courage to tell the truth.
  • Their lives were full of sadness.

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

  • I have only five dollars.
  • The Earth was formed 4.6 billion years ago.
  • There are lots of people but we don't have a car.

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

  • Have you got some money?
  • Air-conditioners use a lot of electricity.
  • Do you have any work for me to do?
  • Many Asians eat rice.

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.

  • His family live in different countries.
  • An average family consists of four people.
  • The new company is the result of a merger.
  • The board of directors will meet tomorrow.

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

  • Can we use the swimming pool?
  • They stop work at sunset.
  • Don't forget that check-out is at 12 noon.

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).