What is a noun?

Nouns are words that indicate a person, place, or thing.
In a sentence, nouns can function as the subject or the object of a verb or preposition. Nouns can also follow linking verbs to rename or re-identify the subject of a sentence or clause; these are known as predicate nouns.

Functions of Nouns

The Subject

The subject in a sentence or clause is the person or thing doing, performing, or controlling the action of the verb. For example:
  • “The dog chased its tail.” (The noun dog is performing the action of the verb chase.)
  • Mary reads a book every week.” (The proper noun Mary is performing the action of the verb read.)


Grammatical objects have three grammatical roles: the direct object of a verb, the indirect object of a verb, or the object of a preposition.

Direct objects

Direct objects are what receive the action of the verb in a sentence or clause. For example:
  • “The dog chased its tail.” (The noun tail is receiving the action of the verb chase.)
  • “Mary reads a book every week.” (The noun book is receiving the action of the verb read.)

Indirect objects

An indirect object is the person or thing who receives the direct object of the verb. For instance:
  • “Please pass Jeremy the salt.” (The proper noun Jeremy is receiving the direct object salt, which receives the action of the verb pass.)
  • “I sent the company an application for the job.” (The noun company is receiving the direct object application, which receives the action of the verb sent.)

Objects of prepositions

Nouns are also used after prepositions to create prepositional phrases. When a noun is part of a prepositional phrase, it is known as the object of the preposition. For example:
  • “Your backpack is under the table.” (The noun table is the object of the preposition under, which creates the prepositional phrase under the table.)
  • “I am looking for work.” (The noun work is the object of the preposition for, which creates the prepositional phrase for work.)

Predicate Nouns

Nouns that follow linking verbs are known as predicate nouns (sometimes known as predicative nouns). These serve to rename or re-identify the subject. If the noun is accompanied by any direct modifiers (such as articles, adjectives, or prepositional phrases), the entire noun phrase acts predicatively.
For example:
  • “Love is a virtue.” (The noun phrase a virtue follows the linking verb is to rename the subject love.)
  • “Tommy seems like a real bully.” (The noun phrase a real bully follows the linking verb seems to rename the subject Tommy.)
  • “Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.” (The noun phrase a blessing in disguise follows the linking verb is to rename the subject this.)
(Go to the section on Subject Complements in the part of the guide that covers Syntax to learn more about predicate nouns.)

Categories of Nouns

There are many different kinds of nouns, and it’s important to know the different way each type can be used in a sentence. Below, we’ll briefly look at the different categories of nouns. You can explore the individual sections to learn more about each.

Common and Proper Nouns

Nouns that identify general people, places, or things are called common nouns—they name or identify that which is common among others.
Proper nouns, on the other hand, are used to identify an absolutely unique person, place, or thing, and they are signified by capital letters, no matter where they appear in a sentence.
Common Nouns
Proper Nouns
“He sat on the chair.”
“Go find Jeff and tell him dinner is ready.”
“I live in a city.”
“I’ll have a Pepsi, please.”
“We met some people.”
Prince William is adored by many.”

Nouns of Address

Nouns of address are used in direct speech to identify the person or group being directly spoken to, or to get that person’s attention. Like interjections, they are grammatically unrelated to the rest of the sentence—they don’t modify or affect any other part of it. For example:
  • James, I need you to help me with the dishes.”
  • “Can I have some money, Mom?”
  • “This, class, is the video I was telling you about.”
  • “Sorry, Mr. President, I didn’t see you there.”

Concrete and Abstract Nouns

Concrete nouns name people, places, animals, or things that are physically tangible—that is, they can be seen or touched, or have some physical properties. Proper nouns are also usually concrete, as they describe unique people, places, or things that are also tangible. For example:
  • table
  • rocks
  • lake
  • countries
  • people
  • Africa
  • MacBook
  • Jonathan
Abstract nouns, as their name implies, name intangible things, such as concepts, ideas, feelings, characteristics, attributes, etc. For instance:
  • love
  • hate
  • decency
  • conversation
  • emotion

Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Countable nouns (also known as count nouns) are nouns that can be considered as individual, separable items, which means that we are able to count them with numbers—we can have one, two, five, 15, 100, and so on. We can also use them with the indefinite articles a and an (which signify a single person or thing) or with the plural form of the noun.
Single Countable Nouns
Plural Countable Nouns
a cup
two cups
an ambulance
several ambulances
a phone
10 phones
Countable nouns contrast with uncountable nouns (also known as non-count or mass nouns), which cannot be separated and counted as individual units or elements. Uncountable nouns cannot take an indefinite article (a/an), nor can they be made plural.
“Would you like tea?”
“Would you like a tea?”
“Do you have any information?”
“Do you have an information?”
“We bought new camping equipment.”
“We bought new camping equipments.”

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are nouns that refer to a collection or group of multiple people, animals, or things. However, even though collective nouns refer to multiple individuals, they still function as singular nouns in a sentence. This is because they still are technically referring to one thing: the group as a whole. For example:
  • “The flock of birds flew south for the winter.”
  • “The organization voted to revoke the rules that it had previously approved.”
  • “The set of tablecloths had disappeared. ”

Attributive Nouns (Noun Adjuncts)

Attributive nouns, also called noun adjuncts, are nouns that are used to modify other nouns. The resulting phrase is called a compound noun. For example:
  • “The boy played with his toy soldier.”
In this sentence, toy is the noun adjunct, and it modifies the word soldier, creating the compound noun toy soldier.
To learn more about attributive nouns, go to the section on Adjuncts in the chapter on The Predicate.

Compound Nouns

A compound noun is a noun composed of two or more words working together as a single unit to name a person, place, or thing. Compound nouns are usually made up of two nouns or an adjective and a noun.
  • water + bottle = water bottle (a bottle used for water)
  • dining + room = dining room (a room used for dining)
  • back + pack = backpack (a pack you wear on your back)
  • police + man = policeman (a police officer who is a man)

Noun Phrases

A noun phrase is a group of two or more words that function together as a noun in a sentence. Noun phrases consist of a noun and other words that modify the noun. For example:
  • “He brought the shovel with the blue handle.”
In this sentence, the shovel with the blue handle is a noun phrase. It collectively acts as a noun while providing modifying words for the head noun, shovel. The modifiers are the and with the blue handle.

Nominalization (Creating Nouns)

Nominalization refers to the creation of a noun from verbs or adjectives.
When nouns are created from other parts of speech, it is usually through the use of suffixes. For example:
  • “My fiancée is an actor.” (The verb act becomes the noun actor.)
  • “His acceptance of the position was received warmly.” (The verb accept becomes the noun acceptance.)
  • “The hardness of diamond makes it a great material for cutting tools.” (The adjective hard becomes the noun hardness.)
  • “This project will be fraught with difficulty.” (The adjective difficult becomes the noun difficulty.)

1. A noun can be which of the following?

2. What category of nouns is used to identify the person or group being directly spoken to?

3. Identify the type of noun (in bold) used in the following sentence:
“Your indifference is not acceptable.”

4. What category of nouns is used to modify other nouns?

5. Which of the following is commonly used to create a noun from a verb or adjective?

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