What are the five rules for forming nouns?

This is the fourth of five chapters about Nouns. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Introduce the importance of understanding noun rules

– Explore five rules that make for grammatically formed nouns

– Provide subrules, examples and diagrams to guide the reader

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Chapter 4

Because a number of important rules for correctly determining the forms and functions of nouns have already been discussed in Chapters 1, 2 and 3, this fourth chapter next aims to explore the five rules that if followed can greatly help to improve academic success. Each of the five considerations below are provided with examples and explanations that can be referred back to in the future.


Rule 1: Pre-Modifying Nouns

When considering which words to place before a noun within a noun phrase, otherwise known as pre-modification, it’s important to note that there are certain rules as to which word types and word classes may be used. In short, only determiners (including articles and quantifiers), numerals and adjectives can precede a noun – and they must remain in that order:C

Rule 2: Post-Modifying Nouns

When a modifying word, phrase or clause is placed after a noun in English, this is called post-modification. There are four possible post-modifying constructions: prepositional phrases, non-finite verb phrases and finite and non-finite adjective clauses. Each of these is exemplified for you in the table below:

Rule 3: Capitalising Nouns

Knowing when to correctly capitalise a noun in English can be tricky for many students – even for native speakers of the language. Is it ‘Summer’ or ‘summer’, for example, ‘doctor’ or ‘Doctor’? Thankfully, there are three simple questions you should ask yourself if you wish to capitalise correctly every time:


i) Is the noun at the beginning of a sentence? If the answer is yes, then capitalise that noun. The first word of any sentence is always capitalised.

ii) Is the noun the first-person pronoun ‘I’? Whenever the pronoun ‘I’ is written, it should always be written with a capital letter.

iii) Is the noun a proper noun? As was explained in Chapter 3, proper nouns are a limited set of nouns that are used to name specific things, such as an object, a person, a title or a place. Proper nouns, which fall into four major categories such as are shown below, should always be capitalised:

Rule 4: Pluralising Nouns

As was also outlined in Chapter 3, there are five types of noun in the English language that demonstrate singularity (one) or plurality (more than one) in some way. These are singular, plural, countable, uncountable and collective nouns, and each has its own set of rules for correct and grammatical pluralisation.


i) singular countable nouns

Nouns that can be counted and that only indicate one of an object or concept, such as ‘book’, ‘house’ or ‘idea’, must always take a determiner when singular. In other words, determiners such as ‘the’, ‘my’ or ‘a’ (as in ‘the book’, ‘my house’ or ‘a great idea’) must be used when the countable noun is not in its plural form.  


ii) plural countable nouns

However, countable nouns that indicate more than one of an object or concept may be used either without a determiner (as in ‘computers are useful’) or with specific determiners, quantifiers and numerals (such as ‘these computers are useful’, ‘some computers are useful’ or ‘I have two computers’). There are four rules that should be followed when attempting to correctly pluralise countable nouns such as these:

iii) uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns such as ‘food’ or ‘hair’ are plural by nature and do not generally show plural forms like countable nouns do. Such nouns may be used with quantifiers (as in ‘some food’), but are never used with the indefinite articles ‘a’ or ‘an’. Generally, uncountable nouns refer to abstract concepts (‘beauty’ or ‘death’), activities (‘sleep’ or ‘work’), human qualities (‘happiness’ or ‘pride’) and  substances (‘beer’ or ‘salt’). However, as the four expressions below show, it’s important to watch out for nouns that have both uncountable and countable forms. While some nouns such as ‘hope’ will retain their meaning in both uses, others such as ‘language’ will express different meanings in their countable/uncountable forms:

It’s also important to watch out for uncountable nouns such as ‘mathematics’ or ‘rabies’ that end in ‘-s’ as these may falsely appear to have the form of plural countable nouns. Please note also that many uncountable nouns can be made countable by including additional expressions, as in the following examples:

iv) collective nouns

Finally, for collective nouns that are always plural, such as ‘family’, ‘group’ or ‘team’, the only rule to remember here is that these nouns may require singular or plural subject-verb agreement depending on their meaning:

Rule 5: Making Possessives

The final rule of this chapters is about making nouns possessive, which is when one noun demonstrates ownership over another (as in ‘the student’s research’). The largest variation in how possessives are formed is noticeable between singular and plural nouns, as is explored next.


i) singular nouns

Whether countable or uncountable, the simplest rule when making a singular noun possessive is to add an apostrophe (‘) and the suffix ‘-s’ to the noun that has ownership, as in ‘the teacher’s bag’. However, because many common nouns such as ‘bus’ or ‘spectacles’ and many proper nouns such as ‘Jones’ and ‘Hastings’ already end in an ‘-s’, there can be some confusion and variation here. In such situations, it’s unclear whether both an apostrophe and an ‘-s’ should be added to the existing noun or only the apostrophe. The best piece of advice we can give is to read the phrase aloud. If you say an extra ‘-s’ when speaking then add that extra ‘-s’, and if you do not then simply add the apostrophe, as is shown in the following examples:

ii) plural nouns

For regular plural nouns that already end in the suffix ‘-s’, the general rule here is to add only an apostrophe and not an additional ‘-s’. This is also true for plural proper nouns such as ‘Joneses’ or ‘Hastingses’. However, for irregular nouns such as ‘woman’, which becomes ‘women’ when plural, both an apostrophe and ‘-s’ should be added to the end of the word. The following tables provides examples of such regular plural nouns, plural proper nouns and irregular plural nouns for your information:

Having now explored the functions, types and rules of nouns, our fifth and final chapter on this topic introduces you to the nouns and phrases that are most useful when writing academically. 

4 of 5 Chapters Completed


Once you’ve completed all five chapters about nouns, you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

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