Nouns Help (page 2)
Introduction to Nouns
Learn why the noun, and its six identifiable subgroups, is the fundamental component of our language.
Nouns, the most basic component of language, are naming words. They help us identify the persons, places, or things we talk about. There are six distinct groups of nouns: common nouns, proper nouns, concrete nouns, abstract nouns, collective nouns, and compound nouns.
It is important to know about nouns and their function in speaking and writing because so many other parts of speech relate to nouns. So, that is where we will start our grammar refresher. The following page briefly summarizes the six different noun groups and cites the unique qualities that separate them. Then we will look at each individual group in more detail.
The Six Types of Nouns
A common noun is a word that speaks of something only in a general way, like book, car, and person. Common nouns can be written in singular form (book, car, and person) or plural (books, cars, and people).
Unlike common nouns, proper nouns name a very specific person, place, or thing. One distinguishing aspect of proper nouns is that they always begin with a capital letter. Catcher in the Rye, BMW Z4, and Albert Einstein are proper nouns.
Concrete nouns name something that appeals to your senses. For instance, toothbrush, cell phone, moonlight, waves, and breezes are all concrete nouns.
In contrast, abstract nouns name beliefs, concepts, and characteristics or qualities—things that can't be touched, seen, or accrued. For example, composure, sovereignty, free enterprise, daring, and handsome are abstract nouns.
Collective nouns are words used to name people, places, and things in terms of a unit. For instance, class, flock, herd, and family are collective nouns.
New words can be formed by combining two or more words, thus creating a compound word. Compounds can be made up of a number of speech components, including nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Some examples of compound nouns are motorcycle, onlooker, input, and washing machine.
Many nouns may fall into more than one of these categories. For example, the noun school (of fish) is common, concrete, and collective. The noun well-being is abstract and compound.
A Closer Look at Nouns
Proper nouns are easily distinguishable from common nouns by their capital letters. But be cautious. Don't assume that every word in a sentence that begins with a capital is a proper noun. Basic sentence structure dictates that every sentence must begin with a capital letter—remember that from English class? Also, what might appear to be a proper noun, or some form thereof, could instead be a proper adjective simply because it is describing or telling about a noun that follows it in the sentence. For example, the proper noun Florida is acting as a proper adjective in the following sentence because it is used to describe the word sunshine.
Almost nothing beats the warmth of Florida sunshine.
In the following sentence, Florida is a proper noun, because it is not describing another word.
My family goes to Florida every summer for vacation.
Concrete nouns are fairly simple to identify. They're nouns that appeal to your senses—hearing, touch, taste, smell, and sight. Besides things like an avalanche, a stretch limo, newborn kittens, or a piping hot plate of barbeque ribs, things such as air, cells, molecules, and atoms are concrete, even though they can't readily be seen with the naked eye. Got the idea?
Abstract nouns, on the other hand, name ideas, qualities or characteristics, and feelings. Words such as pride, resentfulness, health, democracy, and love fall into this category. Do you see the difference between the two?
Take a look at a list of collective nouns, and you're sure to get a few chuckles. Some are fairly familiar, such as herd, club, family, and committee. But did you know that a group of oysters is called a bed? That a group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope? That a group of islands is called a chain? Or that a group of ships is called a flotilla?
A collective noun can take either a singular or a plural verb, depending on how it is used in the sentence. Take the word choir, for instance. In the sentence
- The choir travels to out-of-state performances by bus.
the choir is taken as a single unit and therefore takes the singular verb (the collective group travels). The following sentence, on the other hand, uses the word choir in a plural sense.
- The choir are fitted for new robes every three years.
This implies that all the individual choir members are fitted for new robes every three years. While the sentence may sound odd, this must obviously be the case, as each individual member wears a robe; the group as a single unit doesn't wear a robe.
Tip: Remember, if a collective noun refers to a whole group, use a singular verb; if the noun refers to the people in the group acting as individuals, use a plural verb. If you're not sure, the general rule is to use the singular. It is almost always acceptable.
Compound nouns can present writers with issues regarding spelling, rather than usage. There are three ways to spell these nouns, which are made up of two or more words. The closed form refers to two words joined without any space between them, such as bandwagon, newspaper, and skyscraper. The open form has a space between several words that create one idea, like water ski and stainless steel. The hyphenated form uses hyphens (-) between the words, like mother-in-law and do-gooder.
- Be careful to distinguish between words that have different meanings as a word pair or as a compound word. The following table lists a few of the most commonly confused compound words.
Tip: Always check the dictionary to find out if a compound word should be hyphenated, since there are not any hard and fast rules. For example, mini-mart has a hyphen, while another mini-compound, miniseries, does not!
Exercises for this concept can be found at Nouns Practice
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