What are the eleven types of English noun?
This is the third of five lessons about Nouns. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Introduce the eleven types of noun in the English language
– Explore each of the eleven types in turn, using examples
– Mention also pronouns and gerunds as a type of noun
Now that Lessons 1 and 2 are completed, you should hopefully feel more confident about identifying English nouns and understanding their various functions. This third lesson on the subject next aims to explore and exemplify the eleven different categories of noun that may be encountered either in every day speech or in academic writing. The following table briefly outlines these eleven types, each of which will be discussed in turn and in detail. Please note that these categories may overlap in meaning, with some nouns being acceptable in more than one category:
Types 1/2: Abstract and Concrete Nouns
The first two types of noun are described together because, like many other categories of noun, they are in complementary distribution. In other words, a noun may be either abstract or concrete in meaning, but never both. The first type, abstract nouns, are nouns which name things that have no physical or visible existence, such as concepts or emotions that cannot be experienced with a person’s five senses (like ‘love’ and ‘fear’). Concrete nouns, on the other hand, name real, observable entities that can be touched, seen or smelled (like ‘ocean’ or ‘fire’), as is exemplified in the table below:
Types 3/4: Common and Proper Nouns
The next two types of noun are the common and the proper noun. The common noun, which is a noun that names any general thing, is one of the largest groups of noun. Common nouns may in fact be subdivided into abstract/concrete, singular/plural and countable/uncountable types. In contrast, proper nouns are a limited set of nouns which are used to name specific things, such as an object (the Eiffel Tower), a person (Donald Trump), a title (the President) or a place (the United Kingdom). Because of their uniqueness and specificity, proper nouns are traditionally the nouns that must be capitalised.
Types 5/6: Singular and Plural Nouns
As will be explained in more detail in Lesson 4, almost all nouns have a way of demonstrating singularity (one) from plurality (more than one). How they do this, however, varies depending on the type of noun being used, with plural nouns generally requiring a simple ‘-s’ suffix to show number and uncountable nouns requiring additional expressions such as ‘two bowls of’ or ‘three slices of’. A speaker might say, for example, ‘I have some books you can borrow’, using the plural form ‘books’ to indicate that there’s more than one book to choose from.
Even with the simplicity of singular and plural categorisations, there are still some irregular nouns such as ‘memory’ or ‘mouse’ that pluralise differently:
Types 7/8: Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Countable nouns such as ‘book’ can be either singular or plural and can easily indicate a specific number. A speaker could say, for example, ‘I can borrow two or three books’, using the numerical adjectives ‘two’ or ‘three’ to demonstrate this countable aspect. Some nouns, however, such as uncountable nouns like ‘hair’ or ‘rice’, are intrinsically plural and are difficult to count due to their large implied quantity. Although the rules of uncountable nouns will be explored in detail in Lesson 4, we’ve nevertheless provided some examples below that demonstrate how constructions using countable and uncountable nouns may vary:
Type 9: Collective Nouns
Continuing with the theme of number, collective nouns are those nouns which remain plural in meaning even when used in their singular form. Because singular nouns such as ‘committee’, ‘group’ or ‘team’ all indicate a collective of people or objects, these nouns are considered to be both singular and collective in type. As is exemplified below, when a collective noun such as ‘team’ is singular it may express one meaning, and when plural another:
Type 10: Compound Nouns
The tenth noun type, the compound noun, is a very common and creative type of noun in which a noun and another word (usually another noun) are combined to create a new word with its own unique meaning. Such compound nouns may be either written as one word such as ‘toothbrush’, as two separate words like ‘credit card’, or as one hyphenated phrase such as ‘son-in-law’. It’s worth noting that when creating such compound nouns, the first word of the compound usually indicates the type or purpose of the noun while the second word indicates the what or the who. This semantic arrangement can be seen in the following table:
Type 11: Possessive Nouns
The final type of noun is the noun that indicates possession, which is when one item or concept demonstrates ownership over another such as ‘the teacher’s bag’ or ‘Jane’s addiction’. Although there are some irregularities that will be discussed in Lesson 4 regarding possessive nouns, the general rule here is to add an apostrophe (’) and an ‘-s’ suffix to the end of the noun that exhibits possession, such as in the examples below:
What about pronouns and gerunds?
While not classified as a unique type of noun, pronouns and gerunds often function much as nouns do and as such are worth learning. Pronouns like ‘he’ or ‘it’ are a word class unto themselves and are often used instead of nouns within a clause, while gerunds are ‘-ing verbs such as ‘swimming’ that only temporarily function as nouns. Both word types are exemplified for you in the table below:
Now that we’ve discussed the functions and types of nouns and explored a number of tests that can be used to identify them, Lesson 4 next introduces five key rules for correctly forming and using nouns within your speech and writing.
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