Grammar: Noun

Posted December 14, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Nouns are people, places, things, or ideas. They may be proper, specific, or common. Without ’em, readers wouldn’t know if they (we!) were at the ocean or a lake, hiking in a lush, rich forest or across the desert, cooking in the kitchen or over a campfire…discussing philosophy or strategy…sewing a quilt or a shirt…typing a novel or a screenplay…and on and on…

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle?

If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page. And consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Noun
Credit to: Towson.edu; Bruckmyer, 72
Definition: Person, place, thing, or idea. One tip-off is if the word is preceded by the.

Nouns can have different functions in a sentence:

  • Subjective case, a.k.a., nominative case – acts as subject of independent or dependent clause
  • Possessive case, a.k.a., Genitive case – shows possession of something else
  • Objective case, a.k.a., oblique – functions as the recipient of action — direct (accusative) or indirect (dative) objects — or as the object of a preposition
  • Vocative Case – names addressed directly

A good indicator is the use of a determiner which signals that the following word is a noun.

Post Contents:

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Noun Anatomy
Head Noun Definition: The key word that determines the nature of a phrase (in contrast to any modifiers or determiners).

A.k.a., head word, primary word, governor, primary noun

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the noun head

tiny dog

We swam through the coral reefs in the Caribbean.

John and I really enjoy space opera movies.

People who run are susceptible to shin splints.

Creating Plural Nouns
Definition: A noun that indicates more than one in number.

General Rule: The rules for who, how, and which to add that s to!

NOTE: Crystal notes the “greengrocer’s apostrophe” which results from the confusion as to whether food nouns end in s or es with the produce becoming ‘s: potato’s, tomato’s. I disagree with his assessment, however (Crystal, 240).

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Types of Nouns
Common Noun Definition: General items

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school
church
book
paper
ball
cake
+ + +
Deverbal Noun Definition: Verbs or verb phrases that behave grammatically as nouns.

A.k.a., nominalization — using verbs as nouns

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baker
drink
driver
punishment
shake
shootings
suffering
read
Verbal Noun Definition: A noun with verbal characteristics but has no verb-like properties. A verbal noun can take determiners, be modified by adjectives, be pluralized (if the sense allows), or be followed by a prepositional phrase.

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Verbal nouns are formed in a number of ways, usually by adding a suffix to the base form of the verb.

NOTE: Verbal nouns cannot be modified by an adverb nor can they can take objects.

Verb Noun
to arrive arrival
to decide decision
to destroy destruction
to fly flight
to bowl bowling
to return return
to attack attack
to build building
to repeat repetition
Examples:
His sudden arrival surprised me.

He has not yet announced his decision.

He boarded a flight to Chicago.

I do not want a repetition of yesterday’s events.

The Iraqis staged a surprise attack.

Proper Noun Definition: Names of actual people, places, animals, ideas, and products.

NOTE: They are always capitalized.

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Mary
God
Black and Decker
United States
Singular or Plural Noun Definition: It’s exactly what you think… Be aware that there are also collective nouns that are singular group or plural group nouns.

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Singular Noun Plural Noun
Definition: A noun that refers to only one thing, person, idea, place, etc. Definition: A noun that refers to multiple things, persons, ideas, places, etc.
girl girls
Paul, Mary, Henry Pauls, Marys, Henrys
bicycle bicycles
state states
dream dreams
thought thoughts
Idea Noun Definition: A word that expresses a concept.

A.k.a., abstract noun

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communism
democracy
education
experience
friendship
hatred
help
humor
knowledge
live
love
peace
regret
sadness
sleep
understanding
Possessive Noun Definition: Shows that the noun owns something.

Also a noun phrase.

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Helene’s paintbrush
Predicate Noun Definition: A single noun or a noun phrase that renames the subject of a sentence and follows a stative or linking verb.

When it follows an intransitive verb, the predicate noun completes the meaning of the sentence.

A.k.a., Predicate nominative, completer, subject complement

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Mr. Smith is a doctor.
My son became a professional soccer player.
Mary Smith may be our next president.
J. K. Rowling is an excellent author.
Wind turbines are an alternative source of power.
Pavarotti was a great singer.
For the next twenty years, we remained friends.

(Your Dictionary.com)

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the predicate noun
Quantity Noun Definition: Phrases or terms used to tell the quantities of things. Some quantity nouns tell the quantities of certain countable and uncountable nouns.

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Rule: If the item is plural, use a plural quantity noun; if the quantity noun is plural, be sure the item is plural.
a bottle of…
a cup of…
a set of…
a pair of…
a slice of…
a tube of…
a stick of…
a box of…
a stack of…
a loaf of…
Compound Noun Definition: Two or more words, usually a noun + noun (modified noun)/adjective/preposition/verb, that is joined in one of three ways: closed, hyphenated, open, or long Compound Noun.

Pluralizing a compound noun can be tricky as it’s always the primary noun, the head, that is pluralized, and that head is not always the last word. (See Plurals for lots more information!)

Anatomy of a Compound Noun:
Because grammarians like to get really detailed, they’ve come up with categories for the various parts of a compound noun:

  • Head describes the primary noun (the one that’s pluralized)
  • Head-initial is right-branching
  • Head-final is left-branching
  • Head-medial is a combination of right- and left-branching

NOTE: You don’t really need to remember all this branching stuff; I’m including it so that when you do run across it, it doesn’t throw you for a loop!

Closed Compound Noun Rule: Words are joined together.

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Compound Word Primary Noun Modifying Word Part of Grammar
birdsong song bird noun
toothpaste paste tooth noun
underground ground under preposition
haircut hair cut verb
output put out preposition
Hyphenated Compound Noun Rule: Words are joined by a hyphen.

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Compound Word Primary Noun Modifying Word Part of Grammar
daughter-in-law daughter -in-law adjective
over-the-counter counter over-the- prepositional phrase
six-pack pack six- adjective
Open Compound Noun Rule: Words are not joined together.

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Compound Word Primary Noun Modifying Word Part of Grammar
dry cleaning cleaning dry adjective
major general general major adjective
hot tub tub hot adjective
Learn English Grammar Network which has a huge, and I mean huge list of compound words. An easy way to check to see if your phrase is a compound word is to look in an accredited dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Oxford English, and American Heritage are the most preferred by editors, ahem.
Long Compound Noun Definition: When multiple nouns modify another noun, it can be exhausting to keep reading and wondering when the end will come. It can become confusing to understand what is being modified.

A.k.a., stacked noun phrase or packed noun phrase

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uniform resource locator protocol problem

lake water pollution reduction log

veteran employee discount clearance card

low-emission fossil fuel injection pump

Collective Noun
DISCLAIMER: The concept of the collective noun is easy enough to grasp. What’s confusing is the number of books and sites that sway back and forth about how collective feeds into the countable or uncountable nouns. Most infer that countable and uncountable all come under the umbrella of collective; a few imply that the uncountable nouns are the collective. I’m aggregating what I’ve learned with countable and uncountable under one heading — collective — and it may change at any time.
Definition: A countable or uncountable noun that appears to be singular, but refers to a group of people, animals, or things that act as one. It can be treated as either singular or plural.

A.k.a., group nouns.

Rule: Whether a group noun is singular or plural depends on if the action is undertaken by the group as a whole or if the action taken by people within the group are individual moves.

Singular: Everyone acts as one unit

Plural: Members of that group act individually

The British tend to treat all group nouns as plural.

Singular: Group Acts as One Plural: Group Acts as Individuals
The class has decided to buy their teacher a group gift.

The staff vehemently opposes working on New Year’s Day.

The family was united on this question.

Seven hours seems like a long time to wait for tickets.

One hundred dollars has been added to your account.

A large percentage of the state favors the death penalty.

Most of the roast beef was eaten immediately.

The location of the cows is not my problem.

The theme of those movies gives me the shivers.

For Parents’ Day, the class are dressing in their parents’ old clothes.

The prison population were writing revolutionary slogans on the walls of their cells.

My family are always fighting among themselves.

A large percentage of the voters are dissatisfied with our senator.

Most of my friends are vegetarians.

Rule: Single item that consist of two parts (and uses a plural verb)
two trousers
a pair of…

  • … trousers
  • … earrings
  • … eyeglasses
  • … jeans
  • … pajamas
  • … pants
  • … pincers
  • … pliers
  • … scissors
  • … shorts
  • … tights
  • … tweezers
[Some] Collective Noun Examples Used For Things
bouquet
bunch
fleet
forest
galaxy pack (of cards, of lies)
a pair of…
range
wad
Rule: Plural noun uses singular verb
athletics
billiards
cards
darts
economics
gymnastics
mumps
measles
news
politics
physics
rabies
[Some] Collective Animal Noun Examples
brood
colony
clutch
drove
flight
flock
gaggle
herd
hive
litter
nest
pack
plague
pride
skein
swarm
tribe
troop
yoke
Countable & Uncountable Nouns
CAUTION: Depending upon the quantifier or determiner used, a countable can become uncountable and vice versa. And then there are nouns which swing from countable to uncountable and can mean different things.

See Quantifier for a list of words and phrases used with countable and uncountable nouns.

Countable Noun Definition: People or things which are treated as separate items which can be counted, modified by a number or quantified with size, amount, or value related words, i.e., things that we can count.

Countable nouns can be singular or plural and are used with:

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[Some] Countable Noun Examples
We can count pens. We can have one, two, three or more pens.

Hovering over words with a dotted underline will tell you if it’s an article, quantifier, or determiner.

dog, cat, animal, man, person
bottle, box, litre
coin, note, dollar
cup, plate, fork
table, chair, suitcase, bag
an apple, ten apples
my aunt, three aunts
a book, a shelf full of books
a car, four cars
a DVD, ten DVDs
computer, a few computers
My dog is playing.
My dogs are hungry.
A dog is an animal.
I’ve got some dollars.
Have you got any pens?
I’ve got a few dollars.
I haven’t got many pens.
Rule: Singular countable nouns need a word like a, the, my, this with it.
I want an orange. I want orange

Where is my bottle? Where is bottle?

Rule: Plural countable nouns can be used alone.
I like oranges. I like an oranges.

Bottles can break. A bottles can break.

Uncountable Noun Definition: People or things which may be seen as a whole or as a mass, substances, or concepts, etc., that can’t be divided into separate elements. They cannot be separated or counted. We cannot count them.

For example, we can count bottles of milk or litres of milk, but we cannot count milk itself.

A.k.a., mass noun, non-count noun

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[Some] Uncountable Noun Examples
accommodation
advice
aggression
air
anger
applause
army
array
art
assistance
attention
audience
baggage
band
beauty
beef
bevy
board
bravery
bread
bunch
business
butter
cabinet
cake
cast
cement
cereal
cheese
chess
chocolate
choir, chorus
class
clergy
cloud
coffee
committee
company
congregation
corporation
council
courage
cream
crowd
curiosity
currency
department
dirt
dust
earnings
education
electricity
enemy
entertainment
equipment
fabric
faculty
faith
family
firm
fleet
flock
flour
freedom
fruit
fun
furniture
gang
garbage
gas
glass
gold
government
grass
grief
group
groceries
guilt
happiness
heat
help
homework
honesty
honey
hope
housework
humor
information
iron
jam
joy
judo
jury
knowledge
land
lightning
literature
love
luck
luggage
mail
majority
mess
milk
minority
money
mud
music
nature
navy
news
number
oil
pack
pad
paint
panel
paper
party
pasta
peace
permission
pizza
plethora
poetry
police
population
pork
power
pride
progress
public
rain
research
rice
rubbish
sadness
salt
satisfaction
school
senate
society
sleep
sleet
snow
staff
sugar
sunshine
surveillance
tea
team
tears
thunder
time
traffic
transportation
travel
troupe
water
weather
wine
wisdom
work
yoga
Rule: Uncountable nouns are usually treated as singular and use a singular verb.
This news is very important.
Your luggage looks heavy.
Rule: Uncountable nouns don’t usually use the indefinite article — a or an. There is no an information or a happiness, although you can “contain” it…a something of…
a piece of news
a bottle of water
a grain of rice
Rule: There are specific quantifiers that are used with uncountable nouns, including some, any, a little or much.
I’ve got some money.
Have you got any rice?
I’ve got a little money.
I haven’t got much rice.
Countable Nouns That Can Be Uncountable Definition: Sometimes, the same noun can be countable and uncountable, often with a change of meaning.

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Countable Uncountable
There are two hairs in my coffee! I don’t have much hair.
There are two lights in our bedroom. Close the curtain. There’s too much light!
Shhhhh! I thought I heard a noise. There are so many different noises in the city.
It’s difficult to work when there is so much noise.
Have you got a paper to read? Hand me those student papers.
I want to draw a picture. Have you got some paper?
Our house has seven rooms. Is there room for me to sit here?
We had a great time at the party.
How many times have I told you no?
Have you got time for a cup of coffee?
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s greatest works. I have no money. I need work!
Two teas and one coffee please. tea
coffee
water
orange juice
Gender
Definition: Certain nouns (Latin words and personal names) change depending on whether they’re masculine, feminine, or neuter.

Suffixes such as -ess, -ette, and -er may be used to affect the difference between feminine and masculine, with the feminine being much more common.

Feminine Masculine Neuter
alumna alumnus
Andrea Andrew
chairwoman chairman chair
chairperson
doe buck bunny
girl boy child
girlfriend boyfriend lover
significant other
partner
jenny jack ass
mistress master
Paula Paul
princess prince
spinster bachelor
stewardess steward flight attendant
tigress tiger tiger
waitress waiter server
wife husband spouse
woman man person
Noun Phrase
Definition: A word or group of words that functions in a sentence as subject, object, or prepositional object, using a noun (or indefinite pronoun) as its head word + a modifier.

A.k.a., nominal phrase , NP

The Modifier for a Noun Phrase Definition: A word that that comes before or after the head noun, pronoun, or numeral.

This modifier can be anything from an adjective, complement, determiner, infinitive phrase, noun, participial phrase, possessive, preposition, or verb.

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Grammar Modifier Noun Phrase Examples
adjective the tall and brilliant professor
complement The convention named Dogbreath vice president.
determiner that darn cat
infinitive phrase the first man to walk on the moon
modifying clause the presentation that he had made the day before

that art

noun car door
hall closet
french door
dining table
participial phrase the road following the edge of the frozen lake
possessive Matisse’s art
prepositional phrase the building next to the lodge, over by the highway

the art over the sofa

verb the running man

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the phrase
  2. Blue indicates the noun
  3. Bold indicates the modifier
Noun in a Noun Phrase Rule: Usually the modifier precedes the noun and consists of determiner and sometimes an adjective phrase.

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Noun Phrase
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the determiner
  2. Blue indicates the noun
  3. Orange indicates the adjective or adjective phrase

the toys
many toys
the many toys
the blonde
long-haired blonde
the long-haired blonde

Noun Modifier Definition: Two nouns used together show that one thing is a part of something else; it modifies the meaning of the primary noun (British Council).

A.k.a., noun adjunct, attributive noun, noun premodifier

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Modified Noun Its Meaning
ice bucket a bucket to keep ice in
ice cube a cube made of ice
ice breaker a ship which breaks ice
ice age the time when much of the Earth was covered in ice
Rule: Noun modifiers are placed after adjectives.
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the primary noun
  2. Blue indicates the adjective
  3. Bold indicates the modifying noun

old newspaper seller

tiring fifty kilometer journey

Rule: Use noun modifiers to show what something is made of.
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the primary noun
  2. Bold indicates the modifying noun

gold watch
leather purse
metal box

Rule: Nouns ending in -er and -ing are often used as noun modifiers
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the primary noun
  2. Bold indicates the modifying noun

office worker
jewelry maker
potato peeler
shopping list
swimming lesson
walking holiday

Rule: Measurements, age, or value can be used as noun modifiers.
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the primary noun
  2. Bold indicates the modifying number

thirty-kilogram suitcase
two-minute rest
five thousand euro platinum watch
fifty-kilometer journey

Rule: Sometimes more than two nouns are used together.
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the primary noun
  2. Bold indicates the modifying number

London office workers
grammar practice exercises

Noun Phrase as Prepositional Complement Definition: Noun phrases most frequently function as prepositional complements.

Rule: A preposition introduces the noun phrase.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the preposition
  2. Blue indicates the noun phrase

The keys are on the hall table.

I hate it when people get up during the movie.

I saw him going into the motel.

Numerals in a Noun Phrase Rule: Numerals, when used as a noun, may also be heads.

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Noun Phrase
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the numeral as noun
  2. Orange indicates the noun phrase

Four of the puppies are cross-eyed.
The first to buy tickets was Helen.
The second horse to win was Heaven’s Treasure.

Pronouns in a Noun Phrase Rule: Pronouns in a noun phrase do not use determiners and adjective phrases are not used before the pronoun, although they may be used after the pronoun.

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Noun Phrase
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the pronoun
  2. Orange indicates the adjective or adjective phrase

He hates dogs.
This is my dog.
She gave me a great haircut.
Those who don’t bring a dish, don’t eat.

Types of Noun Phrases
Discontinuous Noun Phrase Definition: A broken noun phrase; it may be split or delayed and placed at the end of a sentence to give a greater emphasis or focus on that last part of the phrase. The ending part of the phrase is usually a modifying phrase: participial or prepositional.

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Several accidents have been reported involving passengers falling from trains.

If the noun phrase were continuous:

Several accidents involving passengers falling from trains have been reported recently.


A rumor circulated among the staff that he was being promoted to Vice President.

A rumor that he was being promoted to Vice President circulated among the staff.


The time had come to stop spending money foolishly and to put something away for the future.

The time to stop spending money foolishly and to put something away for the future had come.


That hard drive was faulty that you sold me.

That hard drive that you sold me was faulty.

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the noun phrases
Vocative Noun Phrase Definition: The vocative case is someone who is being addressed directly. As a noun phrase, which is really just being picky, it’s more than one noun.

It is always treated as parenthetical text set off with commas.

If it is a proper noun, it may be referred to as a noun of address.

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Dr. Fletcher, your patient is here.

Madame President, the meeting is about to begin.

You lily-livered gobshite, what are you doing?

Whoever is making that racket, you’d better stop!

Yes, Your Honor, that’s the truth.

Wait a minute, detective, I’ve just thought of something.

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the vocative noun phrase
  2. Blue indicates the noun of address
Noun Clause
Definition: A dependent clause that functions as a noun within a sentence and is introduced by a subordinate conjunction.

Usually abstract in meaning, the noun clause may be a subject, object, or complement within the sentence and may function as an appositive or a complement of adjective or preposition. A noun clause may also incorporate non-finite clauses, -ing clauses, and infinitive clauses.

a.k.a., nominal clause

Function, Clause, etc. Sentence
subject What happened next remains a mystery.
object He alleges that he doesn’t remember a thing.
complement The question is how we should proceed.
complement of adjective I’m not sure if we should report this.
complement of preposition It depends on what happens next.
apposition The question whether this is a criminal matter, is not easy to answer.
-ing clause He’s talking about facing the music.
infinitive clause To err is human.
non-finite clause All I did was laugh.
Noun Clause as Prepositional Complement Definition: It’s a noun clause introduced by a preposition.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the preposition
  2. Blue indicates the noun clause

Henry’s date will think about that he plans to divest her of her virginity on prom night.

We are planning on whomever you bring to be a guy.

The quarterback listened to what the coach had to say.

Relative Noun Clause Definition: Can refer to people, things, or abstract ideas.

Rule: Clause begins with a wh- word AND includes the antecedent within itself.

a.k.a., nominal relative clause, fused relative construction, independent relative clause, free relative clause, wh- clause.

See more on the post about relative clauses.

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I don’t know what happened.
Whoever told you that was wrong.
Reported Question Definition: A form of reported speech, this clause restates a direct question as a statement.
Direct Question… …Restated as a Reported Question
“Are you coming?” she asked. She asked me if I were coming.
“What time is the movie?” he asked. He asked her what time the movie started.
She asked, “Do you want a milkshake?” She asked if I’d want a milkshake.
He asked, “Where do you want this?” He asked me where I wanted it.
Mary asked, “How much does this cost?” Mary asked how much it cost.
Leroy asked, “Who has seen Batman?” Leroy asked George who had seen Batman.
Harvey asked, “Do you want milk or bitter chocolate?” Harvey asked me whether I wanted milk or bitter chocolate.
That-Clause Definition: A clause beginning with that or where that could be inserted.

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That you believe it can happen is crazy.
I’m sorry that you’re so upset.
What is that you’re sewing?

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