What Are Nouns?
What are nouns?

A noun is a "naming" word.

A noun is a word for a person, place, or thing. Everything we can see or talk about is represented by a word that names it. That "naming" word is called a noun.


A noun is a word for a person, place, or thing. (You might like to think of nouns as "naming" words.) Everything we can see or talk about is represented by a word that names it. That "naming word" is called a noun.

Sometimes a noun will be the name for something we can touch (e.g., lion, cake, computer), and sometimes a noun will be the name for something we cannot touch (e.g., bravery, mile, joy).

Everything is represented by a word that lets us talk about it. This includes people (e.g., man, scientist), animals (e.g., dog, lizard), places (e.g., town, street), objects (e.g., vase, pencil), substances (e.g., copper, glass), qualities (e.g., heroism, sorrow), actions (e.g., swimming, dancing), and measures (e.g., inch, ounce).

Some More Examples of Nouns

Here are some more examples:
  • soldier - Alan - cousin - Frenchman   (names for people)
  • rat - zebra - lion - aardvark (names for animals)
  • house - London - factory - shelter   (names for places)
  • table - frame - printer - chisel (names for objects)
  • lead - nitrogen - water - ice (names for substances)
  • kindness - beauty - bravery - wealth - faith (names for qualities)
  • rowing - cooking - barking - reading - listening (names for actions)
  • month - inch - day - pound - ounce (names for measures)

The Two Main Noun Categories: Common Nouns and Proper Nouns

A noun can be categorized as either a common noun or a proper noun. A common noun is the word used for a class of person, place, or thing (e.g., person, city, dog). A proper noun is the given name of a person, place or thing, i.e., its own name (e.g., Michael, New York, Rover). A proper noun always starts with a capital letter. Here are some more examples of common nouns and proper nouns:

Common NounProper Noun
townMilton Keynes
bridgeThe Golden Gate Bridge
towerEifel Tower
streetHoneysuckle Crescent

Read more about using capital letters for proper nouns but not common nouns.

What Is It? What's Its Name?

A common noun answers the question "What is it?"
A proper noun answers the question "What's its name?"

Q: What is it? A: It is a bridge.
Q: What's its name? A: It is London Bridge.

The Different Types of Nouns

A noun can usually be further categorized depending on its meaning (e.g., Is it something tangible?) or its structure (e.g., Is it made up of more than one word?).

A Noun Will Often Fit into Several Categories

It is not unusual for a noun to fit into several noun categories. For example, the common noun mother-in-law is a gender-specific noun (it's always a female), a concrete noun (it's something you can perceive), a countable noun (it's something you can count), and a compound noun (it's made up of more than one word).
Below is a list of the different types of nouns with examples:

Abstract Nouns

Abstract nouns are things you cannot see or touch. For example:
  • bravery
  • joy
  • determination

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are words that denote groups. For example:
  • team
  • choir
  • pack
Collective nouns can be treated as singular or plural. It depends on the sense of your sentence. For example:
  • The team is scheduled to arrive at 4 o'clock.
  • The team are wearing different novelty hats.
Read more about treating collective nouns as singular and plural.

Compound Nouns

Compound nouns are nouns made up of more than one word. For example:
  • court-martial
  • pickpocket
  • water bottle
Some compound nouns are hyphenated, some are not, and some combine their words to form a single word.

Read more about hyphens in compound nouns.
Read about forming the plurals of compound nouns.

Concrete Nouns

Concrete nouns are things you can see or touch. For example:
  • tree
  • hammer
  • cloud

Non-countable Nouns

Non-countable nouns (or mass nouns) are things you cannot count. For example:
  • food
  • music
  • water

Gender-specific Nouns

Gender-specific nouns are nouns that are definitely male or female. For example:
  • king
  • vixen
  • actress

Verbal Nouns

Verbal nouns are nouns derived from verbs. (Verbal nouns have no verb-like properties.) For example (verbal nouns shown in bold):
  • a good building
  • a fine drawing
  • an effective attack
In the examples above, the verbal nouns are shown with adjectives to differentiate them from gerunds (which are often confused with verbal nouns). Gerunds are modified with adverbs not adjectives.


Gerunds are nouns that end -ing and that represent actions. (Gerunds have verb-like properties.) For example (gerunds shown in bold):
  • happily building a tower
  • quickly drawing the scene
  • suddenly attacking the enemy
In the examples above, the gerunds are shown with adverbs and direct objects to differentiate them from verbal nouns (which are often confused with gerunds).
Click on the nouns:


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