English is a wonderful rainbow of parts of speech as shown in the picture, including nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives and so on. English is based on the panoply of nouns and verbs to communicate all types of messages.
A noun is one of the eight parts of speech that is used to name a person, an animal, a place, a thing, a quality, a job title, a state and even an action: writing. Nouns are the largest class of words that one uses to name all the things we know about, have, see, hear, taste, smell, or feel . According to Jean Yates nouns include words for people, such as man, teacher, friend; words for places, such as city, kitchen, street; words for things, such as ball, tree, computer, as well as words for things one knows exist but can’t touch, such as idea, air, pollution and strength.
According to Constantin Paidos some English words function only as nouns (i.e. lion, fog, courage) while other words may function as both nouns and adjectives (light, cold) or nouns and verbs. Words that function as nouns and verbs fall into three categories. The first category is that of nouns and verbs that have the same spelling and pronunciation: copy – to copy, answer – to answer, dance – to dance, drink – to drink, end – to end, help – to help, kiss – to kiss, stop – to stop, wish – to wish etc. The second one is that of nouns and verbs that have different pronunciation (and sometimes different spelling): f-v belief – to believe, /s/-/z/ advice – to advise, /?/-/?/ cloth – to clothe etc. The third category is that of nouns and verbs that differ through stress: ‘export – to ex’port, ‘permit – to per’mit, ‘rebel – to re’bel etc.
There are two major types of nouns: proper nouns and common nouns, the latter being further divided into countable and uncountable nouns.
- Proper and common nouns
Proper nouns are names given to beings, things, places or ideas considered to be unique and spelt with a capital letter. These words may designate:
- Personal names (both first names like Diana and Chris, as well as surnames like Popescu);
- Nationalities (the Japanese, the British)
- Languages (English, Romanian, Spanish);
- Titles (Mr. John, Miss Deborah, Mrs. Kerry, Dr. Smith, Queen Elisabeth, Lord Byron, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sergent Jackson, Professor Bright);
- Animals (Spot, Missy);
- Calendar items (January, Monday, Christmas);
- Geographical names like:
- continents (Europe, Africa)
- countries (the United States of America, Greece)
- rivers, lakes, oceans, seas (the Black Sea, the Danube, Lake Michigan)
- mountains (the Alps) and so on.
- Celestial bodies (the Moon, Venus)
- Cardinal points, when they are not used geographically (North, West);
- Institutions (the European Union, the National Theatre, the British Museum);
- Newspapers, titles of books, magazines (the Guardian, Vogue, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes)
Common nouns designate all those nouns which do not name a particular person, thing, idea or place. They may designate people (mother, aunt, baby, teacher, man etc.), things (chair, book, pencils, laptop, game), animals (cat, lion, alligator, dog, bird), places (park, city, country, pub), ideas and feelings (love, respect, hate). Common nouns don’t use capitalization unless they are the first word in a sentence.
Common nouns may be countable or uncountable, concrete or abstract and collective. We will expand on these five types of common nouns onward.
According to Constantin Paidos, a noun is countable if:
- it has a plural form (girl – girls, table – tables);
- it can be preceded by the indefinite article a/an (a cat, an argument);
- it can be preceded by How many or (a) few (How many pencils have you got?; My cousin has a few books);
- it can be preceded by numbers (one pencil box with three rulers).
A noun is uncountable if the opposite is true:
- it has not a plural form (sugar, silver, blood);
- it cannot be preceded by the indefinite article a/an (Such fine weather!);
- it can be preceded by How much or (a) little (How much honey do you want?; My parents have little furniture);
- it cannot be preceded by numbers.
The most frequent uncountable nouns in English relate to:
- liquids (water, oil, milk);
- gas (air, oxygen, steam);
- food (spaghetti, butter, soup, bread, cheese, cookery, food, meat, toast );
- abstract ideas (chaos, advice, education, fun, gossip, hospitality, information, knowledge, luck, news, nonsense, patience, progress, strength, stuff );
- subjects / fields (mathematics, art, politics, poetry, vocabulary);
- mass nouns (hair, transportation, furniture, grass, money);
- grain and powder (sugar, rice, sand);
- natural phenomena (rain, snow, darkness, lightning, sunshine, thunder);
- sports (football, chess, poker);
- activities (reading, swimming, working, dancing, laughter, leisure, shopping, smoking, spelling, work);
- feelings (sadness, anger, courage, happiness, jealousy);
- states of being (adulthood, power, sleep, stress, safety, stupidity, violence, wealth).
Other frequent uncountable nouns that miss the above basic classification are: accommodation, advice, business, capital (money), cardboard, cash, china, clothing, countryside, damage, dirt, evidence, flu, homework, housework, jewelry, machinery, mud, music, permission, seaside, soap, traffic, transport, underwear and others.
However, some nouns can be both countable and uncountable, depending on whether they refer to single items or to an object made from a matter that is uncountable. For example the noun coffee is countable in the sentence I drink a coffee every day because it refers to a cup of coffee, but it is uncountable in Would you like some coffee?, because it refers to coffee in general. Just like truth may also be countable in “The fundamental truths about human nature”, where it stands for believes, and uncountable in “There’s no truth in your saying”, where it refers to the quality of being true.
There are many uncountable nouns in English that may take the form of singular or plural, if they are accompanied by partitives. Partitives are denoting a grammatical construction used to indicate that only a part of a whole is referred to. According to Constantin Paidos , these nouns refer to:.
a) Specific items or amounts: a bar of chocolate / soap / metal; a balde of grass, a block of marble / ice / wood; a box of matches, a book of stamps, a breath of air, a bar / cake of soap, a cloud of dust, a crust of bread, a cube of ice, a dash of soda, a drop of oil / rain / water, a flash of light / lightening / inspiration, a grain of corn / dirt / rice / sand, a head of hair / cattle / cabbage / lettuce, a heap of coal / dirt / rubbish, an item / a piece of news / information, a jar of jam, a jet of water, a loaf of bread, a lump of coal / sugar, a pat of butter, a clap of thunder, a piece of wood / furniture / paper / glass / chalk / cotton / bread / advice / information / gossip / scandal / wisdom / knowledge; a pile of earth, a pinch of salt, a portion of food, a puff of smoke / wind, a role of paper, a sip of tea, a scrap of paper, a speck of dust, a slice of bread / cake / meat, a sheet of paper, a splash of soda, a stick of chalk, a strand of hair / wool;
b) Containers: a barrel of beer, a basket of fruit, a bottle of milk / wine, a packet of cigarettes, a flask of tea, a glass of water, a jug of water, a mug of cocoa, a tin of soup, a tube of paste, a vase of flowers;
c) Games: a game of billiards / bridge / cards / chess / darts / tennis / volleyball;
d) Measures: a gallon of petrol, a length of cloth, a litre of oil, an ounce of gold, a pint of beer / milk, a pound of coffee, a spoonful of medicine, a yard of cloth;
e) Types / species: a brand of soap, a kind of biscuit, a species of fish, a type of drug, a variety of pasta, a make of car, a sort of cake;
f) Abstract nouns: a bit / piece of advice, a bit of knowledge, a grain of truth, a fit of anger, a piece of research, a shred of evidence, a period of calm, a spot of trouble, a spell of work, a wink of sleep;
g) Pairs: a pair of boots / shoes / braces / glasses / gloves / jeans / knickers / pants / pyjamas / scissors / shoes / shorts / socks / skates / skis / slippers / stockings / tights / tongs / trousers.
Common nouns may refer to concrete or abstract things. Countable nouns may be concrete (like a girl or a book) or abstract (like an idea or a dream). Uncountable nouns may also be concrete (like milk or pasta) or abstract (like advice or love).
Abstract nouns are names of qualities, conditions, or actions, considered abstractly, or apart from their natural connection. William Malone Baskervill and James Witt Sewell state that there are two chief divisions of abstract nouns: attribute nouns, the ones expressing attributes or qualities and verbal nouns, expressing state, condition, or action. According to him, the attribute abstract nouns are derived from adjectives and from common nouns, like prudence from prudent, height from high, redness from red, stupidity from stupid, or peerage from peer, childhood from child, mastery from master, kingship from king, etc.
The verbal abstract nouns originate in verbs and they may be of the same form as the simple verb: a long run, a bold move, a brisk walk; derived from verbs by changing the ending or adding a suffix: motion from move, speech from speak, theft from thieve, action from act, service from serve; or finally derived from verbs by adding -ing to the simple verb, but not confusing it to gerunds: sayings, awakening, wedding, feelings etc.
There are nouns that refer to a group of people, animals, things considered as a whole. These nouns are called collective nouns. They fall into four major groups. The first group of collective nouns refers to people. Such collective nouns are: an assembly, a band of musicians / pilgrims, a class of pupils / students, a crew of sailors, a choir of singers, an army of soldiers, a gang of thieves / laborers, a group of dancers, a bevy of ladies, a staff of employees / teachers / servants, a team of players, a posse of policemen, a bunch of crooks, a bench of bishops / magistrates, a crowd of people or spectators, a company of actors, a troupe of artists / dancers / minstrels, orchestra, a pack of thieves, a horde of savages, a committee, a regiment of soldiers, a congregation of worshipers, a host of angels, a panel of experts, a council, a board of directors, an audience of listeners, a tribe of natives, a crew of sailors, a flock of tourists, enemy, family, a party of friends, folk, public, government, a jury, a mob, nation etc.
The second group of collective nouns is used for animals, insects or birds: a catch of fish, a flock / flight of birds, an army of ants, a covey of grouse, a haul of fish, a flock of sheep, a herd of any animal (like deer, cattle, goats, elephants, buffaloes, horse, etc.), a hive of bees, a down of hares, a team of horses, a troop of lions, a zoo of wild animals, a pack of wolves, a litter of cubs, a fall of woodcocks, a host of sparrows, a kennel of dogs, a nest of mice, a murder of crows, a team of ducks / oxen / horses, a litter of puppies / kittens, a swarm of bees / ants / rats / flies, a pack of hounds, herd of antelope, army / colony of ants, shrewdness of apes, tribe / flange / congress of baboons, culture of bacteria, a plague of insects / locusts, cete / colony of badgers, a pride of lions, sloth / sleuth / pack of bears (or polar bears), grist of bees, a rag of colts, lodge of beavers, flight of bees or insects, congregation of birds, volery of birds, sedge of bitterns, herd of boar, chain of bobolinks, a stud / string of horses, brace or clash of bucks, a school of whales, rabble of butterflies, a shoal of herring, wake of buzzards, army of caterpillars, a troup of lions / monkeys, clowder / clutter / pounce / glaring / dout / nuisance of cats, drove of cattle, brood of chickens, flock of chickens, congregation of crocodiles, float of crocodiles, litter of dogs, kennel / pack of dogs, pod of dolphins, convocation of eagles, colony / knot of frogs, bury of rabbits and so on.
The third major group of collective nouns refer to things: a string of pearls / beads, a bale of cotton, a library of books, a batch of bread, a chest of drawers, a budget of papers, a pack of cards, a clutch of eggs, a bunch of keys, a collection of pictures, a group of islands, a flight of steps, a wad of notes, a forest of trees, a galaxy of stars, a hail of fire, a stack of wood, a fleet / squadron / flotilla of ships, a peal of bells, an album of stamps / autographs / photographs, a sheaf of arrows, a hedge of bushes, a set of china, a bowl of rice, a suit of clothes, a pair of shoes, a suite of furniture / rooms, a pack of cards / lies, a range of mountains, a skein of wool / silk, a cloud of dust, a pair of shoes etc.
The last and smallest group of collective nouns talk about plants or fruit: a basket / crate of fruit, a bouquet / bunch of flowers, a bunch of grapes, a sheaf of corn, a tuft of grass, a strack of hay etc.