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Types of Nouns (Common, Proper, Abstract, and Concrete)

Nouns are words given to people, places or things. There are various types of nouns, and each has a different role.

Types of Nouns

Nouns are words given to people, places or things.

Common nouns vs proper nouns

Take a look at the following sentence:

Henry VIII was considered an accomplished king.

The noun Henry VIII refers to a particular king in history. The noun king, however, does not refer to any one king in particular. King is a common noun since it applies just as much to Henry VIII as it does any other king in the past, present and future. Henry VIII we call a Proper noun, whereas king is a common noun. Likewise:

Sally Jones is a Proper noun and name of a specific person and girl. Girl is a common noun, and a term that applies to any girl.

Evan Peters is a proper noun and name of an actor, while man is a common noun.

Paris is a proper noun, and names a specific city in the world; city is a common noun (and does not specify any one city, but applies to all cities (pl. n.) equally.)

France is a proper noun, and name of a specific country. Country is a common noun.

Common nouns, then, are names given to a group or classification of things in the world:  girl, boy, man, city and country are common nouns that apply to anything that fall under its category or kind.

Henry VIII, Sally, Joe, Paris and France are all proper nouns. Proper nouns name particular people, places or things, and use capital letters no matter where they appear in sentences. Commons nouns do not use capital letters unless they form part of a proper noun (as in the name of a title of some work or novel,) or to start a sentence.

Collective nouns and abstract nouns

Common nouns include collective nouns and abstract nouns. Collective nouns mention groups or a collective taken as a whole or entity. For example, an army, fleet, mob or crowd are made up of more than one of something (in this case, they’re all comprised of numerous people that occupy a position or occupation).

An army refers to a group or collection of soldiers taken as a whole. A crowd is a collection of people or individuals in a condensed space or location.

The police managed the unruly crowd at the parade.

The Canadian army was defeated in battle.

The jury found the accused guilty of the crime.

Army, crowd, and jury name a collection of people that occupy a certain position or space, but are referred to as a single group or collection. Abstract nouns may mention a quality, state or action apart from the object to which it belongs, such as:

A quality or trait: goodness, kindness, braveness, whiteness, darkness, hardness, brightness, honesty, wisdom, bravery.

Action: laughter, theft, movement, judgement, hatred.

State: childhood, boyhood, youth, slavery, sleep, sickness, death, poverty.

Examples of abstract nouns are from P.C. Wren’s English Grammar and Composition.

Most abstract nouns that mention qualities are based on adjectives. To be honest, kind, good; light or dark, hard or soft are all adjectives that describe nouns (which includes people). That said, as a concept and abstract idea, we can still think of kindness, goodness, honesty, lightness, brightness, hardness and softness in the abstract, or pulled apart from how they apply in describing particular objects or people.

Abstract nouns are not available through the senses, rather they can be felt, thought of, expressed in words, or conceived theoretically, like the idea of justice, or courage. By contrast, concrete nouns are those that are palpable through the senses, and immediately observable either through sight, touch, smell, sound and so on. Think of common objects and things, like a chair, tree, or your laptop.

Countable and non-countable nouns

Intuitively, when we think of things, we think of them in terms of number or count: people, items, and objects are usually things that we can count or quantify. A book, pen, chair, and dog, are all objects or things capable of being counted numerically. Sand, milk, rice, grass and shrimp, on the other hand, are so plentiful and abundant that they are near impossible to count or quantify precisely. Therefore, because these things are quite literally ‘uncountable’, we call them uncountable-able nouns. Nouns that we can count have plural noun forms to signal whether what’s mentioned is one or more than one:

Dog plural is dogs.

Desk: desks.

Woman: women.

Regular plural nouns add an -s or -es; any other plural noun ending is considered irregular (like geese, or children).  Sand, milk, rice and water, which exist in plenties, substances or masses and are naturally plural, do not have plural noun forms, and remain unchanged, even when referred to in the singular case. These nouns are implicitly plural, and while this sounds complicated, in practice it is intuitive.

Learn more about grammar


1. English Grammar and Composition by P.C. Wren and Martin.

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