Types of Nouns

by Craig Shrives
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Types of Nouns

There are nine types of common nouns:
  • Abstract nouns. Abstract nouns are things you cannot see or touch.
    • fear, anger, comfort
  • Concrete nouns. Concrete nouns are things you can see and touch.
    • gerbil, igloo, zoo
  • Collective nouns. Collective nouns represent groups.
    • team, gang, choir
  • Compound nouns. Compound nouns are made up of two or more words.
    • mother-in-law, bus stop, snowman
  • Gender-specific nouns. Gender-specific nouns are male or female.
    • lady, boy, waiter
  • Gerunds. Gerunds end "-ing" and come from verbs.
    • singing, talking, thinking
  • Non-countable nouns. Non-countable nouns have no plural.
    • milk, water, patience
  • Countable nouns. Countable nouns can have a plural.
    • coin, note, robot
  • Verbal nouns. Verbal nouns come from verbs, but they're not gerunds.
    • development, drawing, attack
types of noun
Before we discuss the different types of common noun, remember that all nouns can be classified as either a proper noun or a common noun.

Proper Nouns

A proper noun is the specific name given to a person, place, or thing (e.g., a personal name or a title). 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.)
  • Auntie Sally
  • The Red Lion
Note: A proper noun always starts with a capital letter. Read more about proper nouns. Read more about using capital letters for proper nouns.

Common Nouns

A common noun is the word used for something. In other words, it is the word that appears in a dictionary. For example:
  • car
  • man
  • bridge
  • town
  • water
  • metal
  • ammonia
The difference between common nouns and proper nouns becomes clearer when they're side by side.
Common NounProper Noun
buildingTaj Mahal
carFord Mustang
streetCarnaby Street
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. For example:
  • He disobeyed a direct Order. wrong cross
  • (The word "order" is a common noun. It should not be written with a capital letter.)
  • It is the largest Church in Birmingham. wrong cross
  • (The word "church" is a common noun. It should not be written with a capital letter.)
Read more about common nouns. Read more about not using capital letters with common nouns.

Types of Common Noun

Below are nine different types of common noun. Every common noun can be classified as at least one of the following noun types.

(1) Abstract Noun

An abstract noun is something you cannot see or touch (e.g., "bravery," "hate," "joy"). Here are some more examples of abstract nouns categorized under conceptual headings:
Feelingsanxiety, fear, sympathy
Statesfreedom, chaos, luxury
Emotionsanger, joy, sorrow
Qualitiescourage, determination, honesty
Conceptsopportunity, comfort, democracy
Momentsbirthday, childhood, marriage
An abstract noun is the opposite of a concrete noun. Read more about abstract nouns.

(2) Concrete Noun

A concrete noun is something you can see or touch (e.g., "tree," "cloud," "garlic"). Here are some more examples of concrete nouns:
  • abbey, banjo, camel, daughter, eclipse, fawn, gerbil, hatchet, igloo, jackal, kangaroo, locket, monsoon, nuts, owl, palm, quill, raspberries, sea, tavern, usher, vulture, wasps, xylophone, yacht, zoo
A concrete noun is the opposite of an abstract noun. Read more about concrete nouns.

(3) Collective Noun

A collective noun is the word used for a group of people or things (e.g., "team," "group," "choir"). Here are some more examples of collective nouns:
  • band, board, choir, class, company, congregation, crew, crowd, gang, horde, jury, mob, group, pack, party, team, tribe, bunch, cluster, fleet, range, gaggle, herd, hive, school, shoal, pride, swarm, tribe
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 league. correct tick
  • (Here, the collective noun "team" is treated as singular.)
  • The team are not communicating among themselves. correct tick
  • (This time, "team" is treated as plural because the focus is on the individuals within the team.)
Read more about collective nouns. Read more about treating collective nouns as singular and plural.

(4) Compound Noun

A compound noun is a noun made up of two or more words (e.g., "court-martial," "water bottle," "pickpocket"). Some compound nouns are hyphenated, some are not, and some combine their words to form a single word. For example:

Hyphenated compound nouns:
  • mother-in-law
  • forget-me-not
  • paper-clip
Two-word compound nouns (also called "open compound nouns"):
  • black market
  • board of members
  • washing machine
One-word compound nouns (also called "closed compound nouns"):
  • blackbird
  • anteater
  • snowman
Read more about using hyphens in compound nouns. Pluralizing a Compound Noun. 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 correct tick
  • (Pluralize the principal word "mother.")
  • Paper-clips correct tick
  • (Pluralize the principal word "clip.")
  • Forget-me-nots correct tick
  • (Here, there is no principal word, so add "s" to the end.)
Read more about compound nouns. Read more about forming the plurals of compound nouns.

(5) Gender-Specific Nouns

A gender-specific noun refers to something specifically male (e.g., "man," "boy," "bull") or a female (e.g., "woman," "girl," "vixen"). Below are some more examples of gender-specific nouns:

Always masculine:
  • actor, boy, brother, emperor, father, gentleman, grandfather, grandson, headmaster, husband, man, master, mister, nephew, prince, son, steward, uncle, waiter, wizard
Always feminine:
  • actress, aunt, daughter, empress, girl, granddaughter, grandmother, headmistress, lady, lioness, lioness, madam, mistress, mother, niece, princess, princess, sister, stewardess, stewardess, tigress, tigress, waitress, waitress, wife, witch, woman
Read more about gender-specific nouns

(6) Gerund

All gerunds end "-ing." A gerund is a noun formed from a verb (e.g., running quickly, guessing a number, baking cakes). Here are some examples of gerunds in sentences.
  • Running the tap will clear the air pocket.
  • (This is formed from the verb "to run.")
  • She is known for talking quietly.
  • (This is formed from the verb "to talk.")
  • My highlight was visiting New York.
  • (This is formed from the verb "to visit.")
Be careful. Not every word that ends "-ing" is a gerund. Present participles are formed from verbs and they also end "-ing." In fact, the present participle of a verb and the gerund are always identical. The difference is how they are used. Gerunds are used like nouns, but present participles are used as adjectives or to form verb tenses. For example:
  • I like baking.
  • (This is a gerund.)
  • I need some baking powder.
  • (This is a present participle used as an adjective.)
  • She was baking a cake.
  • (This is a present participle used to form the past progressive tense.)
Gerunds are different to other nouns because they maintain some of their verb-like properties. More specifically, gerunds can take direct objects and be modified by adverbs. This makes them useful for writing concise sentences that flow naturally.
  • The quick development of the process is essential.
  • (This eight-word sentence is clunky. There is no gerund.)
  • Quickly developing the process is essential.
  • (In this six-word sentence, a gerund has been modified by the adverb "quickly" and has the direct object "the process." It is two words shorter than the first example and more natural sounding.)
Read more about gerunds.

(7) Non-Countable Nouns (Mass nouns)

A non-countable noun (or mass noun as it's also known) is a noun without a plural form (e.g., "food," "music," "ice"). Non-countable nouns usually fall into one of the following categories: concept, activity, food, gas, liquid, material, item category, natural phenomenon, or particles. Here are some more examples of non-countable nouns shown in the categories.
Concept bravery, honesty, patience
Activity playing, reading, sleeping
Food bread, butter, milk
Gas air, helium, hydrogen
Liquid coffee, petrol, water
Material concrete, wood, metal
Item Category luggage, money, software
Natural Phenomenon gravity, snow, sunshine
Particles dust, flour, sugar
Non-countable nouns are the opposite of countable nouns. Read more about non-countable nouns (mass nouns).

(8) Countable Nouns

A countable noun is a noun that can be pluralized (e.g., "cat/cats," "argument/arguments," "device/devices"). Here are some more examples of countable nouns:
  • aardvark, backbone, coin, daffodil, eagle, face, gorilla, house, igloo, jaguar, koala, log, man, note, orange, package, queen, robot, suitcase, table, udder, vacation, waltz, xylophone, yacht, zombie
Countable nouns are the opposite of non-countable nouns. Read more about countable nouns.

(9) Verbal Nouns

A verbal noun is a noun that has no verb-like properties despite being derived from a verb (e.g., a building, an attack, a decision). Being normal nouns, verbal nouns can be modified by adjectives, be pluralized (if the sense allows), and be followed by prepositional phrases (e.g., "...of men," ...by me"). Here is another example of a verbal noun:
  • I am responsible for the funny drawing of the monster.
  • (Notice that the verbal noun has been modified by the adjective "funny." It could also be pluralized to "drawings," and it precedes a prepositional phrase "of the monster.")
Gerunds are sometimes called verbal nouns, but there is a distinction. Compare the example above with this example featuring "drawing" as a gerund:
  • I am responsible for drawing the funny monster.
  • (This time, the word "drawing" is a gerund. It cannot be modified by an adjective, it cannot be pluralized, and it cannot be followed by "of the monster." It has, however, taken a direct object ("the funny monster"), which a verbal noun cannot do.)
Read more about verbal nouns.

More about Noun Types

In real-life sentences, nouns rarely appear by themselves. Most nouns appear in noun phrases or noun clauses.
  • Noun Phrase. A noun phrase is a group of two or more words that is headed by a noun. For example:
    • How much is the doggy in the window?
    • (Here, the noun phrase is shaded. The head noun is bold. The other words are modifiers.)
  • Noun Clause. A noun clause is a clause (i.e., a group of words with its own subject and verb) that plays the role of a noun. For example:
    • Whatever you wish is my command.
    • (The noun clause is shaded. The clause subject is "you," and the clause verb is "wish.")
Let's end this lesson with this point. There are lots of different types of noun, and, most of the time, your noun will appear in a noun phrase (i.e., it will be accompanied by some modifiers). These noun phrases (and even noun clauses) will all have one thing in common: they can all be replaced with a pronoun. For example:
  • How much is he?
  • (Here, the noun phrase "the doggy in the window" has been replaced by the pronoun "he.")
  • It is my command.
  • (The noun clause "Whatever you wish" has been replaced by the pronoun "it.")
This is a great test for a noun, a noun phrase, or a noun clause: Can you replace it with a pronoun? Read more about noun phrases. Read more about noun clauses. Here is a short video summarizing the different types of noun.

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