Nouns – Introduction

Noun is a Part of Speech or word class that conveys the name of the person, place, animate or inanimate thing, tangible or intangible thing, collection, etc. Basically any word that is the name of something is a noun.

Nouns form the second largest word class in the English language, the largest being verbs. Pronouns are a type of noun as well, but we study them as a different part of speech.

At the end of the article, the reader will be able to:

  • Classify nouns into its four major types
  • Identify the nouns from a sentence
  • Learn the various functions of a noun
  • Understand the concept of a noun phrase and noun clause

Types of Nouns

There are four major types of nouns in the English language:

Proper Nouns

Proper Nouns are those that refer to a unique person, place, phenomena, species or thing.

  • I can’t wait to see the Aurora Borealis. (phenomena)
  • Joseph is running late for work today. (person)
  • The Dodo was isolated in the island of Mauritius. (species)
  • Kolkata is busiest during this time of the year. (place)
  • The Elder Wand is the most powerful wand in the Harry Potter (thing)

Punctuation rules require for proper nouns to begin with an uppercase or capital letter, and hence we see each of the nouns in the examples to begin with a capital letter. Note now every example is the name of a unique item, which is the reason why they are Proper nouns. We will discuss them again below.

Common Nouns [1]

Common Nouns are those that refer to a common place, phenomena, species or thing.

  • Incessant rains flooded the reservoir plains like never before. (phenomena)
  • Unlike the cows, bulls are of little use, leading to milk cartels leaving them loose. (species)
  • I’ll see you at the cafeteria in ten minutes. (place)
  • The Elder Wand is the most powerful wand in the Harry Potter (thing)

Unlike proper nouns, common nouns do not need capitalization.

Let us observe the last example of both the types of nouns.

  • The Elder Wand is the most powerful wand in the Harry Potter (thing)

While wand refers to all wands in existence, Elder Wand refers to one particular wand in the Harry Potter series. Thus wand will be a common noun while Elder Wand becomes a proper noun. Uniqueness of the noun helps determine whether the noun should be proper or common.

Abstract Nouns

Abstract Nouns are those that refer to intangible things like emotions, ideas etc. A few examples include:

  • The brilliance of his performance was the subject of the front page.
  • His amazement at her achievements was matched only by his excitement for the upcoming challenges.
  • The papacy is the religious head of all Roman Catholics over the world.
  • The establishment of the Indian National Congress gave the freedom movement a unified stance.

Each of the words highlighted are nouns that we can’t perceive. Thus we call such nouns as abstract nouns.

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are those that signify a collection of common nouns. Collective nouns are unique for most common nouns and as a subject, takes the singular form of the verb. Let us take a few examples:

  • The family is ready for a holiday. (family of members)
  • He keeps forgetting the quiver of arrows.
  • The army is now fully mobilized and ready to invade. (army of soldiers)
  • The company is looking for new recruits this September. (Company of people, employees, etc.)

Functions of the Nouns of a sentence

A noun can serve as different parts of a sentence. Let us enlist the most popular ones:

Subject of the Verb

In any sentence, the part that performs the action (of the verb) or whose state of being is explained by the verb is the subject. It can be either of a noun or a pronoun.

  • The army is now fully mobilized and ready to invade. (Collective noun as the subject)
  • Madness is like gravity; all it needs is a little push. (Abstract noun as the subject)
  • Amardeep has difficulty recognizing intransitive verbs. (Proper noun as the subject)
  • The manager and the client got into a heated argument. (Common nouns as subjects)
  • Jensen has to be patient while addressing the board. (Proper noun as the subject)

Object of the Verb: Direct and Indirect

The object of the sentence is the part that the verb refers to. The object is the recipient of the verb, and is the one the subject is mentioning about. Objects are basically nouns (proper or common), pronouns or multiple nouns/pronouns linked by a conjunction.

Based on the priority of the reference by the verb of the sentence, objects can be classified as direct or indirect. The same verb in a sentence can refer to two different objects, and the varying nature of references can help us determine which one of them is direct and which is indirect. Let us look at a few examples:

  • Would you pass Dean the pack? (collective noun ‘pack’ and proper noun ‘Dean’)
  • Somebody send HQ a situation report! (common nouns ‘HQ’ and ‘situation report’)
  • You have to show the parents some respect. (common noun ‘parents’ and abstract noun ‘respect’)

Each of the verbs directly refer to an object (the pack, a situation report and some respect’) as these objects complete the literal meaning of the sentence. We call these parts of the sentence as direct objects.

However, another part of each of the sentences is also an indirect response to the same question. We have highlighted them above. These parts of the sentences are also recipients of the verb, and the subject-verb combination modifies the status of these parts as well. Since the reference to these parts is indirect, we call them indirect objects.

As we see, nouns form the core of both direct and indirect objects of the verb.

Object of the Preposition

  • She remained stunned at the sudden betrayal of her partner.

In the above examples, we see how the nouns ‘betrayal’ and ‘partner’ complete the prepositions ‘at’ and ‘of’. They describe the prepositions like the nouns in the previous examples described the verb. Hence these nouns [2] are called ‘Objects of the preposition’. Some more examples include:

  • They have to step up to the challenges.
  • This is the fastest I’ve seen anyone swim across this lake.
  • Why don’t you stand behind the line like a good inmate?
  • When you’re finished reading, sign against your name.

Look how the underlined nouns explain the prepositions of the sentence.

Appositives

An appositive is a noun that provides additional information about another noun. Appositives, in the grammatical sense, can effectively rename the noun.

  • Gerard, an ex-army veteran is a master of close range combat.
  • Satan, hell’s ruler, is popularly misrepresented as the symbol of hell.
  • The lieutenant, a new recruit, was unaware of the procedure.

In the above examples, we see how the nouns ‘ex-army veteran’, ‘hell’s ruler’, and ‘a recruit’ describe the subject of the verb, and can be used to rename the subject noun. Thus these nouns are known as noun phrases.

When the appositive is mentioned after the predicate, it is called a delayed appositive.

  • He went to sleep, a proud father.

Subject and Object Complement

To complement means to equal. Subject and Object complements are those words that equal the subject and object in meaning respectively.

While any part of speech can be a subject or object complement, we look at a few examples of nouns doing the same:

  • Consider this book a donation from me. (‘a donation’ is the abstract noun complement of the object ‘this book’)
  • Why would you become the leader? (‘the leader’ is the common noun complement of the subject ‘you’)

Noun Phrases and Noun Clauses

Noun Phrases

In most of the examples in the previous section, we saw that the subject/object/complement wasn’t just a single noun word. Various other words like adjectives and articles were part of these collection of words. Let us revisit an example:

  • The lieutenant, a new recruit, was unaware of the procedure.

Here, the appositive wasn’t just the noun recruit, but a collection of words ‘a new recruit’. These collections primarily describe a noun within them, and is therefore called a Noun Phrase.

Some additional examples include:

  • All of these exercises need to be completed by tonight.
  • The present divisional manager has no idea about the embezzlement.
  • Gerard, an ex-army veteran is a master of close range combat.

Noun Clauses

A dependent clause that acts as the noun of the sentence is called a noun clause.

Some examples include:

  • Grand Theft Auto is a game where the player is free to do whatever he wants.
  • The focus of this article is how we can help you understand nouns better.
  • The batsman has no idea what he will bowl next.
  • His biggest argument is that you didn’t define the keywords of the clause of the contact.

Noun clauses generally begin with a determiner or an interrogative word.

How do we distinguish between a noun phrase and a noun clause? We look for the verb firstly.

Phrases are those which do not have a subject and don’t have a definite predicate (unless it is a verb phrase). A clause will have a subject and a verb and can act like a standalone sentence, or may need another standalone clause.

Conclusion

Now we expect that you can understand and define various aspects of nouns, their types and functions, and noun phrases.

Notes

[1] In most adaptations of the study of Nouns, Common nouns are of three types: Concrete nouns, Abstract Nouns and Collective Nouns. But we study them separately here for better understanding. So while we mention collective nouns and abstract nouns separately, we refer to Concrete nouns as Common nouns.

[2] The objects of the preposition are not just the abstract noun ‘betrayal’ and common noun ‘partner’, but the entire phrases written in boldface. These phrases are called ‘noun phrases’, because their central word is a noun. We learn more about them in the next section.