What Is an Abstract Noun? (with Examples)
Abstract NounAn 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
A Video SummaryHere is a short video summarizing the difference between abstract nouns and concrete nouns:
More Examples of Abstract NounsHere are some more examples of abstract nouns categorized under conceptual headings:
|Feelings||anxiety, fear, pleasure, stress, sympathy|
|States||being, freedom, misery, chaos, luxury|
|Emotions||anger, hate, joy, grief, sorrow|
|Qualities||courage, patience, determination, generosity, honesty|
|Concepts||charity, deceit, opportunity, comfort, democracy|
|Moments||birthday, childhood, marriage, career, death|
Abstract Nouns Contrast with Concrete NounsAbstract 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 Noun||Concrete Noun|
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 NounsHere 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
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.)
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.