Grammar Guide

Nouns

Nope, the definition hasn’t changed since you were little. Nouns are still people, places, and things. That’s a broad range, so in this article we’ll explain nouns in more depth. What are the different kinds of nouns? How do they function in a sentence? Let’s get started.

What Is a Noun?

A noun is a person, place, or thing. The first two are clear—the last one’s a bit nebulous. A "thing" can be a feeling, or a concept, or an object, or a unit of measurement. If you’re not sure, consult your dictionary (or better yet, your ProWritingAid app).

What Is a Noun’s Function in a Sentence?

Every sentence needs a subject and a verb. A noun is most often the subject of a sentence. For example:

  • Wilson ruled his kingdom so well they wrote a song about him.

“Wilson” is the subject of this sentence, and also a noun. The verb is “ruled,” and it tells you what Wilson is doing. Let’s try another example.

  • The astronaut moonwalked across the surface of the planet.

We’ve got three nouns here: astronaut, surface, and planet. However, only “astronaut” is the subject, since she’s the one doing the moonwalking. (By the way, surface is one of the “things” covered by our definition.)

Types of Nouns

Common Nouns

These are any old regular noun. They refer to people, places, or things in general.

  • teacher
  • school
  • education

Proper Nouns

These refer to a specific person, place, or thing. To signify their importance, proper nouns are always written with initial capital letters.

  • Mary Shelley
  • South America
  • Instagram

Concrete Noun

This type of noun refers only to things that interact with our senses. That is, they can be touched, seen, smelled, tasted, or heard.

  • paper
  • coffee
  • pencil

Abstract Noun

Abstract nouns refer to things which cannot be observed by the senses. For example:

  • time
  • confusion
  • happiness

Yes, you can look at someone’s face and see that they’re happy. However, happiness is still considered abstract because happiness itself is not an observable object.

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns refer to a particular group of people, places, or things.

  • parliament
  • flock
  • audience

Countable and Uncountable Nouns

These are self-explanatory. Countable nouns are those that can be counted:

  • decade
  • book
  • car

Uncountable nouns, on the other hand, have an indefinite or undefinable value, and therefore cannot be counted:

  • water
  • snow
  • light

You’ll notice that many abstract nouns end up being uncountable as well.

Singular and Plural Nouns

Many nouns have multiple forms: singular and plural. Singular nouns refer to one person, place, or thing, while plural nouns refer to multiple people, places or things.

Some examples of singular nouns:

  • ox
  • bookshelf
  • nation

Now here are the plural forms of these same verbs:

  • oxen
  • bookshelves
  • nations

We can often turn a singular noun into a plural simply by adding an "s" on the end. Others, like "oxen", are a bit trickier. As always, if you’re unsure, check your dictionary or ProWritingAid.

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