Commonly Used Nouns Study Guide

Updated on Jul 15, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Commonly Used Nouns Practice Exercises

If you've ever played 20 Questions, you've heard people ask, "person, place, or thing?" or "animal, vegetable, or mineral?" While the answer to these questions changes throughout the game, they all have one thing in common: they are nouns.

Think back to grammar class. You probably remember that a noun is, quite simply, a person, place, or thing. The dictionary further pins it down as "a word or group of words used as the name of a class of people, places, or things, or of a specific person, place, or thing." Does that help? Need more of an explanation?

Just remember that a noun is something or someone. It's not an action (that's a verb). It doesn't describe anything (those are adjectives and adverbs). Many times, a noun is something you can touch, but not always. After all, affection is a noun and so are faith, courage, dreams, and other things you can't touch. These qualify as generic "things" in the definition.

Without nouns, our words and speech wouldn't make much sense. For example, imagine leaving this note:

"Going to his with. Returning. Doing quickly."

Is there a message there? No! The recipient of the note wouldn't know where you were going or with whom, when you would return, or what you're doing.

Just Be Glad

Be thankful this is a vocabulary book and not a grammar book. If it was, you'd see instructions on how nouns relate to appositives, articles, pronouns, compound-possessive forms, infinitives, objective complements, plural possessives, direct objects, and subordinate clauses. Whew. Don't you feel lucky right now?

The definitions of 20 nouns follow; they are arbitrary selections (yes, look that one up!). A few have more than one definition because they're typically used in several ways. Now and then, you'll spot some with interesting or unusual comments added. That doesn't mean the other words are any less interesting. It just means there's only so much space in this book!

Pet Peeve

Don't you just hate it when you look up a word in the dictionary and a form of the same word is in the definition? It can make you feel like your brain is going in circles. This book tries not to repeat the word or a version of it in definitions so that the meaning is as clear as possible.


alumnus   a person who has attended or has graduated from a particular school

[The plural of alumnus is alumni.]

boycott   the process of refusing to deal with a person, organization, or country, usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of terms

[This word can act as either a noun or a verb in a sentence.]

charlatan   a person who pretends to have more knowledge, skill, or ability than he or she actually possesses

[The word comes from Italy and is based on people from the village of Cerreto, most of whom were deemed medical quacks.]

condiment   something used to make food tastier, such as mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper, or other seasonings

dissertation   a long, usually written, thesis or essay on a subject, normally part of the process for earning a college degree

epoch   (1) an event or time that begins a new period of development; (2) a memorable event, date, or period; (3) a division of geologic time less than a period and greater than an age

facsimile   (1) an exact copy; (2) a system of transmitting and reproducing printed matter or pictures by means of signals sent over telephone lines

[This is where the word fax comes from, as in "I'm sending you a fax." The word is also commonly used as a verb, as in "I'm faxing you a copy right now."]

faction   a group or clique acting together within a larger body, party, government, or organization

habitat   the place or type of place where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives or grows; the natural environment of an organism

heretic   a person who believes or teaches something opposed to the current beliefs of the majority; a person who doesn't conform to any established attitude, doctrine, or principle

iconoclast   a breaker or destroyer of images, especially religious ones; a person who attacks cherished beliefs or traditional institutions as being based on error or superstition

[Most likely, a heretic and an iconoclast would be good friends—and a lot of trouble!]

interloper   a person who intrudes or interferes wrongly or without reason; a person who thrusts him- or herself uninvited into the affairs of others

kindred   a group of related individuals or a person's relatives, family, tribe, or race

[This is often shortened to "kin" or "kinfolk" in some communities.]

labyrinth   (1) a place full of passageways and blind alleys arranged to make it difficult to find one's way around or find the exit; (2) something extremely complicated or twisting; (3) the bony and membranous part of the internal ear

[In classical mythology, the Labyrinth was a huge maze built in Crete by Daedalus, under the command of King Minos. It was used to cage the Minotaur, a creature that was part man, part bull.]

metropolis   the chief or capital city of a country, state, or region; any large, busy city

[In comics and films, this is the name of Superman's favorite city.]

nomenclature   a system of terms used in a particular science, field of knowledge, or art, especially for the names of plants and animals in biology

pacifist   a person who opposes, or is against, war or violence as a means of settling disagreements or whose belief in nonviolence causes him or her to refuse to go into military service

prodigy   (1) an amazing event or action; (2) an unusually talented or gifted child

restoration the act of returning something to its former, original, or normal condition

symposium   (1) a group meeting at which there are several speeches and often a group discussion; (2) a collection of opinions on a subject

[These things have certainly changed a lot since Greek and Roman times when the word just meant a big party!]

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Commonly Used Nouns Practice Exercises

Add your own comment