Abstract Nouns

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What Are Abstract Nouns? (with Examples)

An abstract noun is a noun that refers to an intangible concept such as an emotion, a feeling, a quality, or an idea. In other words, an abstract noun does not refer to a physical object.

It is sometimes helpful to think of an abstract noun as a word that names something that you cannot see, hear, touch, smell, or taste (i.e., something you cannot perceive with one of your five senses). For example:
  • consideration, parenthood, belief, anger
abstract noun examples

A Video Summary

Here is a short video summarizing the difference between abstract nouns and concrete nouns:

More Examples of Abstract Nouns

Here are some more examples of abstract nouns categorized under conceptual headings:
HeadingExamples
Feelingsanxiety, fear, pleasure, stress, sympathy
Statesbeing, freedom, misery, chaos, luxury
Emotionsanger, hate, joy, grief, sorrow
Qualitiescourage, patience, determination, generosity, honesty
Conceptscharity, deceit, opportunity, comfort, democracy
Momentsbirthday, childhood, marriage, career, death

Abstract Nouns Contrast with Concrete Nouns

Abstract nouns contrast with concrete noun, which denote tangible things, i.e., things that can be perceived with one of the five senses. Here is a table with some abstract and concrete nouns:
Abstract NounConcrete Noun
LuxurySilk
SuccessMoney
EnergyGas
FriendshipFriend
LuckHorseshoe
LoveKiss

Abstract or Concrete? It Could Be Ambiguous.

It is not always easy to differentiate between an abstract noun and a concrete noun, and it is not unusual for students to argue over whether a noun is abstract or concrete. For example, "laughter" is often cited as an abstract noun, but "laughter" can be heard, which would make it a concrete noun.

We would agree that "laughter" is a concrete noun, but what about "love," "work," and "result"? It is fairly easy to make cases for these being concrete nouns, but they are classified as abstract nouns. Be aware that the distinction between abstract noun and concrete noun is sometimes blurry.

Also, be aware that classifying a noun as abstract or concrete may depend on context or even the classifier's definition of perceivable. Look at these two examples:
  • Working for Disney was a childhood dream come true. (American actress Brittany Curran) (In this context, "dream" is an abstract noun with a meaning similar to "hope.")
  • When I was a little kid, I used to have a vivid recurring dream about Captain Hook. (American actress Cristin Milioti) (In this context, "dream" does not mean "hope." Here, "dream" could be classified as a concrete noun, especially if you think a dream is perceived via your senses.)

Yet More Examples of Abstract Nouns

Here are some more examples of abstract nouns:

anger, anxiety, beauty, beliefs, bravery, brilliance, chaos, charity, childhood, comfort, communication, compassion, courage, culture, curiosity, deceit, dedication, democracy, determination, energy, failure, faith, fear, freedom, friendship, generosity, gossip, happiness, hate, honesty, hope, imagination, information, integrity, intelligence, joy, justice, justice, kindness, knowledge, liberty, life, love, loyalty, luxury, misery, motivation, opportunity, pain, patience, peace, perseverance, pleasure, pride, relaxation, sacrifice, satisfaction, skill, strength, success, sympathy, talent, thought, trust, truth, warmth, and wisdom

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Why Should I Care about Abstract Nouns?

Many creative writers (particularly poets), consider abstract nouns "the enemy." Even though abstract nouns cover many of the topics that poets like to address (e.g., love, loss, sadness, loneliness), poets know that using these words or their derivatives (e.g., I was in love; he was sad; she was lonely) tells their readers very little about their subjects. For poets, the challenge is often to capture these abstract feelings using concrete nouns.
  • ...and my bicycle never leaned against the garage as it does today, all the dark blue speed drained out of it. (from "On Turning Ten" by American Poet Laureate Billy Collins
  • (Here, Billy Collins uses concrete nouns to contemplate the abstract ideas of ageing and the loss of innocence.)
From a business-writing perspective, there is no good reason to learn about abstract nouns. However, as so many language courses cover this term, it may be worth learning about abstract nouns from a passing-your-course perspective.

Remember that a noun is labelled as concrete or abstract based on its meaning not its grammatical function. In other words, abstract nouns and concrete nouns operate the same way grammatically.
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See Also

Take a test on abstract nouns What are nouns? The different types of nouns What are pronouns? The different types of pronouns Collective nouns Compound nouns Concrete nouns Non-countable nouns (mass nouns) Gender-specific nouns Verbal nouns Gerunds Noun clauses Noun phrases