The Different Types of Nouns


 
The different types of nouns.

There are several different types of nouns. These include: common nouns (e.g., abstract nouns, collective nouns, compound nouns, concrete nouns, non-countable nouns, gender-specific nouns, verbal nouns), proper nouns, and pronouns (despite pronouns being classified as a different part of speech).
 


As covered in the lesson nouns, nouns are naming words. There are several different kinds of nouns. This page describes the most common types.

Common Nouns

A common noun is the word used for a class of person, place or thing.

Examples:

  • car
  • man
  • bridge
  • town
  • water
  • metal
  • ammonia
Note: Common nouns are capitalized only when they start a sentence.

Common nouns are further classified into:

Proper Nouns

A proper noun is the name of a person, place or thing (i.e., its own name). A proper noun always starts with a capital letter.

Examples:

  • Michael 
  • Africa
  • Peking
  • Dayton Peace Accord
  • United Nations
  • The Tower of London
  • Uncle George
  • (Uncle is written with a capital letter because it is part of his name.)
  • My favourite auntie is Auntie Sally. 
  • (In this example, the first auntie is a common noun, but the second Auntie is part of a proper noun.)
  • The Red Lion
See also: Capital Letters for Proprer Nouns but Not Common Nouns

Collective Nouns

A collective noun is the word used for a group of people or things.

Examples:

  • Choir
  • Team
  • Jury
  • Shoal 
  • Cabinet (of ministers)
  • Regiment
The big question with collective nouns is whether they should be treated as singular or plural. The answer is: They can be treated as singular or plural depending on the sense of your sentence. This is covered in more depth in the lesson Collective Nouns – Singular or Plural? and in the Beware section on the right of this page.

Pronouns

A pronoun is a word used to replace a noun.

Pronouns are one of the eight parts of speech which are: adjectives, adverbs
conjunctions, interjections, nouns, prepositions, pronouns and verbs.

Even though they are classified as a different part of speech to nouns, pronouns are nouns. They always play the role of a noun in a sentence.

  • James is the first choice for the post. He has applied for it twice already.
  • (He is a pronoun. In this example, it replaces the proper noun James.)
    (It is a pronoun. Here, it replaces the common noun post.)  
  • Some / Who / This
  • (The term pronoun covers lots of words, and all three words above are classified as pronouns. There is whole section dedicated to pronouns.)

Gerunds

Gerunds) are formed from verbs. They end -ing. They are a type of common noun. 

  • I love swimming.
  • (swimming – the name of an activity; it is formed from the verb to swim.)
  • Thinking is required to solve this problem.
  • (thinking – the name of an activity; it is formed from the verb to think.)
Gerunds are different from other nouns because they can take an object or be modified with an adverb.

  • I love swimming this lake.
  • Thinking laterally is required to solve this problem.

Compound Nouns

Compound nouns are nouns made up of two or more words. Some compound nouns are hyphenated. Some are not, and some combine their words to form a single word. (This is covered in the lesson Hyphens in Compound Nouns.)

Examples:

  • Mother-in-law
  • Board of members
  • Court-martial
  • Forget-me-not
  • Manservant
  • Pickpocket
  • Paper-clip
 
 
 
Below are some common errors related to nouns:

NO CAPITAL LETTERS FOR COMMON NOUNS

Common nouns do not start with capital letters (unless they start a sentence or are part of a title). It is a common mistake to capitalize a common noun that is an important word in a sentence. 

  • The corporal disobeyed a direct Order.
  • (order is a common noun – no capital letter) 
  • It is the largest Church in Birmingham.
  • (church is a common noun – no capital letter) 

This is covered more in the lesson Capital Letters for Proper Nouns but Not Common Nouns.

ONLY CAPITALIZE THE PRINCIPAL WORDS IN TITLES

When names contain words such as the, of, an or in, these words are not usually given capital letters.

  •  I must visit the Tower of London.
  • (of is not a principal word – no capital letter) 
  •  Have you seen Day of the Jackal?
  • (of and the are not principal words – no capital letters)

This is called Title Case and is covered more in Capital Letters - Title Case.

SINGULAR OR PLURAL?

Writers are sometimes unsure whether to treat a collective noun as singular or plural. In fact, a collective noun can be singular or plural depending on the sense of the sentence.

  • That team is the worst in the league.
  • (team treated as singular)
  • The team are not communicating amongst themselves.
  • (team treated as plural)

When the group is considered as one unit, it is singular. When the individuals of the group are considered, it is plural.

This is covered in the lesson Collective Nouns - Singular or Plural?.

FORMING THE PLURAL OF COMPOUND NOUNS

To form the plural of a compound noun, pluralize the principal word in the compound. When there is no obvious principal word, add s (or es) to the end of the compound. 

  • Mothers-in-law
  • (pluralize the principal word mother
  •  Paper-clips
  • (pluralize the principal word clip
  • Forget-me-nots
  • (no principal word, so add s to the end)

Words like spoonful, plateful and cupful are exceptions to this rule. They form their plurals by adding an s to the end, even though the principal words are spoon, plate, and cup.

This is covered more in the lesson Compound Nouns - Forming Plurals.
 

See also:

What are adjectives?
What are adverbs?
What are conjunctions?
What are interjections?
What are nouns?
What are prepositions?
What are verbs?
What are pronouns?
The different types of pronouns
Abstract nouns
Collective nouns
Compound nouns
Concrete nouns
Non-countable nouns (mass nouns)
Gender-specific nouns
Gerunds
Verbal nouns
Noun clauses
Noun phrases