The Different Types of Nouns
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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
  • 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. For example:
  • 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
Read more about using 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. For example:
  • 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.

Read more about treating collective nouns as singular and plural.

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 baking.
  • (baking – the name of an activity; it is formed from the verb to bake.)
  • 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 baking bread.
  • (Here, bread is the object of the gerund baking.)
  • Thinking laterally is required to solve this problem.
  • (Here, the gerund thinking has been modified by the adverb laterally.)

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. For example:
  • Mother-in-law
  • Board of members
  • Court-martial
  • Forget-me-not
  • Manservant
  • Pickpocket
  • Paper-clip
Read more about hyphens in compound nouns.
Here are some common errors related to nouns.

NO CAPITAL LETTERS FOR COMMON NOUNS

A common noun does not start with a capital letter (unless it starts a sentence or is part of a title). It is a common mistake to capitalize a common noun that is an important word in a sentence. 
  • He disobeyed a direct Order.
  • (The word order is a common noun. It should not be written with a capital letter.)
  • It is the largest Church in Birmingham.
  • (The word church is a common noun. It should not be written with a capital letter.)

Read more about 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.
  • (The word of is not a principal word. Therefore, it is not given a capital letter.)
  •  Have you seen Day of the Jackal?
  • (The words of and the are not principal words. Therefore, they are not given capital letters.)
This is called Title Case.

Read more about capital letters with 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. For example:
  • That team is the worst in the local league.
  • (Here, team is treated as singular.)
  • The team are not communicating among themselves.
  • (Here, team is 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.

Read more about treating collective nouns as singular and 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. For example:
  • Mothers-in-law
  • (Pluralize the principal word mother.)
  • Paper-clips
  • (Pluralize the principal word clip.)
  • Forget-me-nots
  • (Here, there is 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.

Read more about forming the plurals of compound nouns.


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