You know the drill: a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Simple, right? It does get a bit more complicated than that, so stick with me through the easy part.

Person: woman, man, teacher, and Bill Nye
Place: Florida, Sacramento, sidewalk, and home
Thing: hand, glass, banana, and Pampers
Idea: love, charity, fear, and Christianity

Still with me?

Here’s where it gets more involved. We divide nouns by more than just the above groups. The can also be concrete or abstract, proper or common, count or non-count, or collective.

Concrete versus Abstract
If you can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell the noun, it’s concrete; if you can’t, it’s abstract.

Why does it matter?
For purposes of writing, it might not, but since a beta reader or editor could mention the terms, you should know them.

Proper versus Common
Proper nouns refer to something or someone specific, while common nouns don’t. For example: “city” could be about any municipality, but “Sacramento” refers to the capital of California.

Why does it matter?
Capitalization! Proper nouns are ALWAYS capitalized, whereas common nouns are usually lowercase.

Count versus Non-count
Count nouns can be counted and pluralized; non-count nouns (sometimes called mass nouns) can’t be counted or pluralized. Flowers, phones, and flags are count nouns, whereas water, salt, and lightning aren’t.

If you’re not sure which is which, use the much/many test.

MANY only works with count nouns: “They grow many flowers” and “Many flags flew” are correct, but “we drank many water” isn’t.

(NB: sometimes non-count nouns are pluralized to represent “types of X”)

MUCH only works with non-count nouns: “We drank much water” and “He saw much lightning” are correct, but “they grow much flowers” isn’t.

Why does it matter?
As with much/many, certain adjectives only work with count OR non-count nouns. It’s also important to note that non-count nouns will usually take a singular verb: “water IS wet” and “lightning fills the sky.”


Collective Nouns
These nouns refer to a group of things or people and are considered a whole: e.g.: group, team, or flock.

Why does it matter?
Subject/Verb agreement. In American English, collective nouns take the singular form of the verb: “The team PLAYS on Friday” instead of “The team PLAY on Friday”

Any questions?

See more from my grammar guide.


6 thoughts on “Nouns

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