Nouns are one of the main parts of speech (word classes) in English and many other languages. Nouns are often introduced by articles (“a,” “an,” or “the”) or other determiners (e.g., “your,” “some”), although they can also stand alone.
The example sentences below have all the nouns highlighted in bold.
How are nouns used in sentences?
- The direct object represents something or someone that is directly acted upon by the action of the verb.
- The indirect object represents something or someone that receives the direct object. It occurs only in combination with a direct object, appearing directly before it.
Noun phrases play the same roles in sentences as individual nouns. Examples are shown below with the same color-coding as above: subject, verb, indirect object, direct object.
Common noun vs proper noun
- Common nouns are not capitalized unless they appear at the start of a sentence or in a title. They refer to general classes of things, people, concepts, and places, but not to something or someone specific.
- Proper nouns are always capitalized, unlike common nouns. They are the names of specific people, places, things, and concepts.
Countable and uncountable nouns
- Countable nouns (aka count nouns) are used for things that can be counted. They may be pluralized (e.g., “houses”) or preceded by an indefinite article (e.g., “a house”) or number (e.g., “one house”).
- Uncountable nouns (aka noncount nouns or mass nouns) refer to anything that can’t be counted and is treated as a mass. They are never pluralized or preceded by numbers or indefinite articles (e.g., “research,” “water”).
- American English is more likely to treat these nouns as singular in most cases, although it’s still possible to treat them as plural.
- British English is more flexible, tending to treat them as singular or plural depending on context (e.g., “the board have discussed …” vs. “the board has decided …”).
Concrete and abstract nouns
- A concrete noun names a physical object, place, person, or animal that can be observed with the senses: “banana,” “John,” “canyon,” “clouds,” “Pennsylvania.”
- An abstract noun instead names something less tangible: concepts, feelings, and processes such as “truth,” “freedom,” “importance,” “ageing,” and “indecisiveness.”
Compound nouns, like other compound words, are written in several different ways:
- An open compound has spaces between the words (e.g., “walking stick,” “house party,” “living room”). Most compound nouns are written this way.
- A hyphenated compound has hyphens between the words (e.g., “know-it-all,” “father-in-law,” “well-being”). Relatively few compound nouns are written this way—often those comprising three or more words.
- A closed compound is written as one word with no hyphens or spaces (e.g., “girlfriend,” “household,” “smartphone”). The most established and commonly used compound nouns tend to become closed as they become more familiar.
Their meaning sometimes extends beyond the literal process involved; for example, “building” refers not only to the process of building something but to a large built structure such as a house. (“Meaning” itself is another example.)
This normally consists of the noun followed by an apostrophe s (e.g., “the house’s windows”). With a plural noun ending in “s,” only an apostrophe is added, not an additional “s” (e.g., “the windows’ latches”).
Possessive nouns, just like possessive pronouns, may be used either attributively (directly before another noun; e.g., “Felicia’s bag”) or on their own (e.g., “that bag is Felicia’s”).
Noun vs pronoun
There are far fewer pronouns than nouns. Since what they refer to is nonspecific, the same pronoun can be used in many different contexts. For example, think of all the different things the personal pronoun “it” may refer to.
Unlike nouns, pronouns often change depending on their role in a sentence. For example, the first-person pronoun is “I” in the subject position and “me” in the object position, but a noun is the same in any position: “I spoke to the officer”; “The officer spoke to me.”
Frequently asked questions about nouns
What is an attributive noun?
An attributive noun is used is a noun that’s placed before another noun to modify it, in the same way as an adjective. For example, in the phrase “teacher training,” the noun “teacher” is used attributively to modify another noun, “training.”
Attributive nouns are not exactly the same as adjectives. A big difference is that they can only be used in the attributive position—before the noun they modify—and not in the predicative position.
For example, you can write either “extensive training” or “training that is extensive”; but you can’t write “training that is teacher.” This is because “teacher” is just an attributive noun, not a true adjective.
What is a noun phrase?
A noun phrase is any series of words in a sentence that collectively functions as a noun. For instance, the sentence “My apartment has three windows” contains two noun phrases: “my apartment” and “three windows.”
A noun phrase contains at least one noun or pronoun and all the other words (e.g., determiners, articles, adjectives, prepositions) that modify it.
Noun phrases can be long and complex. For instance, in the sentence “The fact that I can’t attend your party tomorrow is regrettable,” the subject of the sentence is the long noun phrase “the fact that I can’t attend your party tomorrow.”
What is an appositive noun?
An appositive noun is a noun or noun phrase that appears straight after another noun to specify what it refers to or provide more information.
If the appositive provides essential information (that is, it wouldn’t be clear whom or what you were talking about without it), then no punctuation is used to separate it from the surrounding words: “Your friend David is here to see you.”
If the appositive just provides extra information that isn’t essential to the meaning of the sentence, it’s set off with commas: “My hometown, Lochem, is quite small.”