What is a Noun?

In the English language, there are more nouns than any other type of word. It goes without saying then, that we should all know how to properly identify a noun. This article will help you to identify a noun and categorize it into one of the four types of nouns – Common Nouns, Proper Nouns, Collective Nouns and Abstract Nouns. What is a noun?

A noun is a naming word. It is a word that identifies a person, an animal, a place or a thing. It can also be a quality, an idea, a thought, or an action. Nouns can be singular or plural in form – in order words a noun can describe one thing or many things. The easy way to remember what a noun it would be to remember that the word ‘noun’ means name in Latin. So a noun is just a naming word, a word that tells you what something or someone is.

But what if I told you that there are particular words that usually comes before a noun that helps you to spot them a mile away. These are called articles or determiners. Nouns often need an article or determiner (for example the or that) before them in a sentence. Articles and determiners aren’t usually found before other types of words like adjectives or verbs.

dirty texture wall garden
What is a Noun?

Therefore when you see an article or a determiner in a sentence, it will alert you to the possible use of a noun coming after it. Other tell-tale signs of a noun are that they are known to follow (come just after in a sentence) a preposition. Nouns can also be used as a subject, object, or compliment. Keep reading for some examples of nouns and how they can be used in a sentence.

What are some examples of Nouns?

There are four main types of nouns as brought out above;

  • Common Nouns,
  • Proper Nouns,
  • Collective Nouns and
  • Abstract Nouns.

Let’s look at the definition of each of these and then some examples.

Common Nouns

A common noun is a word that names a general object, person, place when these don’t have a specific name. Unlike a proper noun, a common noun doesn’t start with a capital letter unless the common noun is the first word of your sentence.

green and white common chameleon
What are Common Nouns?

For example, you can say “I am going to the shop” and in this sentence, your common noun would be shop because that is the general place you are talking about going to. If you had been more specific and said “I am going to Woolworths” you would have used a noun in the form of the word Woolworths, but this would now be a proper noun because you have identified the place (shop) with a name.

Common nouns are usually identified by the, a or a preceding them:

  • the sea,
  • a fly,
  • an orange.

They follow possessive adjectives:

  • his book,
  • her handbag,
  • its tail.

They do not begin with a capital letter unless they start a sentence:

  • Books are usually found in libraries.

They are usually the first words taught in any language:

  • table,
  • chair,
  • book.

There are sets of common nouns:


  • apricots,
  • bananas,
  • melons.

There are phrases that contain two common nouns:

  • the roof of a house,
  • the hair of the dog.

There are common nouns that partner one another:

  • horse and carriage,
  • fish and chips.

Common nouns reflect what people are:

  • doctor,
  • teacher.

A noun has a gender and is either masculine (prince) or feminine (princess), common (teacher), or neuter (book)

  • prince,
  • princess,
  • teacher,
  • book.

Two nouns together, are known as compound nouns:

  • hand + bag = handbag;
  • book + shelf = bookshelf.

Proper Nouns

A proper noun is a word that always starts with a capital letter because it names specific, one-of-a-kind people, places, objects, animals, and ideas. A proper noun always starts with a capital letter, no matter where it is placed in a sentence, making it really easy to identify. Most proper nouns don’t have the article or determiners like the or that before them in a sentence like common nouns usually do.

Proper Nouns are the names given to:

  • Persons – Stanley, Penny, Hlengiwe, Doctor Naidoo
  • Places – South Africa, KFC, London
  • Days – Tuesday, National Youth Day, Friday
  • Months – November, January
  • Ideologies and educational subjects are written with capital letters in order to accord them respect – Economics, History, English, Accounting
  • Titles of books, films, songs and plays are Proper Nouns and always begin with capital letters – The Avengers, Certified Lover Boy by Drake
  • If a common noun forms part of the name, the first letter of both nouns must be capitalised – Zambezi River, Valley of a Thousand Hills

Abstract Nouns

An abstract noun usually refers to something that we cannot see, touch or measure – as opposed to a common noun which is concrete (we can see, touch or measure it). It is often a feeling or an emotion.

  1. Here are some indicators which will help you to identify abstract nouns:
  2. You can give ‘it’ to someone, but not in a box – for example,

She gave her son love and he responded with respect and obedience

  • The (something) of the girl/boy – love friendship jealousy attitude
  • Jack is full of (something) – compassion hatred ambition energy

Many abstract nouns end with the following suffixes:

age       courage      ism       optimism
ance     nuisance       ment    detriment
ence    pretence       ness     kindness
hood    knighthood       ship      friendship
ice         practice       tion      concentration

Abstract nouns may be formed from other parts of speech –

If we add a, an or the before an abstract noun, we will ‘feel’ it

Collective Nouns

A Collective Noun is the name of a collective group of objects, people or creatures:

  • a flight of stairs
  • a gaggle of geese
  • a string of pearls
  • A collective noun is a descriptive way of saying ‘lots of…’ (Avoid using ‘lots of’ as this is slang)
  • We may use the collective noun without the noun to which it refers:

The Staff (of teachers) was unanimous in its decision.

Some examples of collective nouns are:

An academy of performersA gathering of friends
An array of coloursA pride of lions
A batch of muffinsA horde of savages
A board of directorsA pocket of potatoes
A cloud of smokeA ream of paper
A family of relativesA series of events
A congregation of worshippersA suite of furniture
A gang of thievesA whoop of gorillas

In Conclusion – What is a Noun?

After taking the time to go through this article you should be able to grasp the meaning of what a noun is as well as the different types of nouns we come across. There are many more examples over and above those given here, so why not try and find your own to come to an even better understanding of this part of speech.

stack of thick books on table
What is a Noun?

A noun is a naming word that describes something. They are usually the object of any sentence. Common nouns are concrete things we can see, feel and touch. Proper nouns are the more specific names we give to people, places and titles, etc. Abstract nouns refer to feelings or emotions and a collective noun is a name given to a group of people, objects or creatures.

This website is designed for those who are excelling at English as well as the student that may struggle to grasp some basic concepts. Forgot some Collective nouns? Poetry Turning out to be a problem to interpret? Looking for tough concepts to be easily explained? Look no further!

Our development team hope you enjoy the content provided. Please leave us a comment below should you have any queries or concerns. This content is designed to assist the end-user with the Department of education syllabus.

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