What Is a Noun?

What is a noun?
What are all types of nouns?
How is a noun used in a sentence?

A noun is referred to any word that names something. This could be a person, place, thing, or idea. Nouns play different roles in sentences. A noun could be a subject, direct object, indirect object, subject complement, object complement, appositive or adjective.

Simply put, a noun is a naming word.

Types of nouns

concrete nouns

Nouns hold an important place in English Vocabulary and have different types. They can name

A person: Mark Twain, The president, My father, a boy

A place: Mount Everest, New York, Disneyland, My bedroom

Things:  With things, they can name both tangible and intangible things.

Tangible things are physical things which you can see and touch which include; shoes, clothes, a pen, a book

Intangible things refer to concepts, activities or processes, they even talk about something you feel or imagine, e.g. love, freedom, joy, happiness, talent

Proper nouns vs. common nouns

With nouns, it is important to distinguish between a proper noun and a common noun. A proper noun refers to a noun which is specific. It is the specific name of a person, place or thing and is usually capitalized.

e.g. Where is Tony?

Tony in this sentence is the name of a specific person.

I really want to visit New York.

In the sentence above, New York is the name of a particular city.

In the case of the common noun, it is simply the opposite of the proper noun, it is otherwise known as a generic noun. It is the general name given to items in a class or group. Except a common noun appears at the beginning of a sentence, it is not capitalized on the first letter.

e.g The boy crossed the road quickly.

In this sentence, boy is a common noun. We only know the action of the boy from the sentence and we have no information on the identity of the boy. The word, “road” is also a common noun present in the sentence as there is no information on the particular road that the boy crossed.

Types of common nouns

Common or generic nouns can be further categorized into three: concrete nouns, abstract nouns and collective nouns.

Concrete Noun

A concrete noun is something that can be perceived with touch,, hearing, smell, taste and sight. It refers to tangible things.

e.g. I heard the doorbell right now.

My table is oily.

In the sentences above, doorbell and table can be sensed.

Abstract Noun

An abstract noun refers to something which cannot be perceived by the five senses.

e.g. He had so much courage in the face of adversity.

In this sentence, courage is abstract. Courage can not be seen, heard, touched, or sensed in any way, but we know that it exists and we can describe the action of the person in that manner.

Collective noun

A collective noun refers to a collection or group of people or things.

e.g. A pride of lions were roaming the savanna.

Pride of lions here refers to a group of lion, thus it is a collective noun.

Nouns in sentences

As said earlier, nouns play different roles in a sentence, we will be looking at how nouns are placed in sentences and their functions.

Nouns as subjects

Every correct sentence should have a subject, which is usually a noun, or sometimes a pronoun. The subject of the sentence refers to the person, place or thing which performs the action in the sentence.

e.g. Juan is sad.

Juan is the subject of this sentence and the verb that it follows is a form of the verb ‘to be’

Nouns as objects

Nouns can also be seen as objects in a sentence. An object could be direct or indirect. In the case of a direct object, the noun receives the action performed by the subject directly, while for an indirect object, the noun is a recipient of the direct object.

e.g. Andrew gave the money to Henry.

In the sentence above, money is the direct object which receives the action of giving, while Henry is the indirect object, who the money is being given to.

Nouns as subject and object complements

Another way nouns are used is called the subject complement. In the example below, the noun actor is used as a subject complement.

Matthew is an actor.

Subject complements usually follow linking verbs like, to be, seem, become. An actor is what Matthew is.

 A noun can also be used as an object complement.

I now pronounce you husband and wife.

Husband and wife are nouns used as object complements in this sentence. Verbs that denote making, naming, or creating are often followed by object complements.

Appositive nouns and nouns as modifiers

Nouns also appear in sentences as appositive nouns. An appositive nouns is one that follows another noun, in order to define or identify it.


My sister, Martha, is ten years old.

Martha is an appositive noun here, it goes on to identify the subject of the sentence, my sister.

Nouns can also be used as an adjective.

Eg. She is a speed demon.

Speed is usually used as a noun, but in this case, it is used as an adjective to modify demon.

Plural nouns

Plural nouns are not the same as collective nouns. In the case of plural nouns, they require plural verbs. Most English plural nouns can be formed by simply adding -s or -es to their singular forms. However, there are some exceptions for various nouns.

e.g. cat – cats

tax – taxes

house – houses

Countable nouns vs. uncountable nouns

Countable nouns refer to nouns which can be counted discretely. They can be used with a/an, the, any, few, many, some, etc.

e.g. This is a dog. These are some dogs.

Dog is a countable noun, with plural dogs.

Uncountable nouns refer to nouns that are in a state or quantity that cannot be counted. For example, liquids like oil and water cannot be counted. Such nouns are considered to be singular and in order to refer to their amount, we use words  like, a little, some, much.

e.g Could I have some water?

Water here is an uncountable noun.

Every I.Q. test usually measures intelligence.

In the sentence above, intelligence is an uncountable noun.

Verbal Nouns

A verbal noun is a noun that is derived from a verb. After being derived, they are no longer verb-like.

Examples include,

  • a nice building
  • a good drawing
  • a bad attack

In these examples above, the verbal nouns have adjectives in front of them in order to show that they are different from gerunds. Gerunds are usually confused with verbal nouns, but they are not essentially the same. Gerunds are usually modified with adverbs and not adjectives.

E.g The ceremonial cutting of the cake has begun.


Gerunds are nouns formed from verbs, ending in -ing. Gerunds are simply formed with the present participle form of most verbs.

For example.

Reading is my hobby.

Baking makes me happy

Reading in this sentence is not acting as a verb, it acts as a noun connoting the act of reading.

In the sentence above, baking is also a gerund, and acts as a noun.

Just like gerunds, verbal nouns are gotten from verbs. However, verbal nouns have no properties of a verb. In the example cited above, ‘cutting’ does not have any qualities of a verb. The modifiers are a determiner and an adjective. Which are ‘the’ and ‘ceremonial’. It usually would need a proposition in order to link it to the cake.

On the other hand, in the sentence, Cutting the cake carefully is key.

Cutting, here is a gerund and shows verb like qualities. This is given because it is modified with the adverb, ‘carefully’.

Key Points about verbal nouns.

Verbal nouns are normally preceded by ‘a, an, or the’ and followed by a preposition (e.g., in, of, for). Verbal nouns are usually efficient when talking about word count. Sentences that have verbal nouns could sound stuffy when used. However, verbal nouns provide emphasis and give an air of formality. Verbal nouns should be watched carefully for these two reasons.

  1. When verbal nouns are replaced with verbs and gerunds, you reduce the word count and improve sentence flow.
  2. When you have sentences with verbal nouns, you could be portrayed as a bad writer (who writes stuffy) or a good writer (one who writes authoritatively). You would have to know when to use them to your advantage.

Noun phrases

Nouns do not always function by themselves in sentences. They usually work with modifiers.

  • Eg. Man proposes, but God disposes.  

 This example has two nouns with no modifiers. That is not so common.  

In reality, nouns commonly have modifiers that go with them. Here is a list of nouns again, which shows them having a modifier alongside each of them.

  • Person: the merchant, my niece, mean Dean, the nice lawyer
  • Place: the shop in the corner, inner Birmingham, clean factory, one shelter
  • Thing: This includes:
    • Objects: this chair, our Oxford Bridge, the sharp knife, that balloon, your cup, an inch, her cooking
    • Animals: that aardvark, one rat, a shark, funny Mickey
    • Ideas: utter confusion, some kindness, your faith, the Kinetic theory, a great idea

When a noun has some sort of modifier preceding it like, a, an or the, it is called a noun phrase. Just like any noun, noun phrases function in sentences like a subject, object or complement. In some of the examples below, the noun phrase is underlined and the function of the noun phrase is explained.

  • Singing in the bath makes me relaxed.

 The noun phrase is the subject of the verb “makes”

  • I know the back streets.

The noun phrase is the direct object of the verb “know.”

  • She was the maid of honour.

The noun phrase is a subject complement following the verb “was.”

Since many nouns are present in phrases, let’s define a “phrase.”

Definition of “Phrase”
A phrase is a group of two or more words together that functions as one part of speech.

This means that a noun phrase functions wholly as a noun in a sentence.

This can be said because a noun can be replaced with a pronoun. We will prove this by replacing the noun phrases in the examples above with pronouns to see if they still work.

  • It makes me relaxed
  • I know them.
  • She was her.

Here are some other examples where noun phrases act as subjects, objects, and complements:

  • The woman has nice hair, but she has iron teeth.  

The noun phrase “The woman” is the subject of the verb “has.” The noun phrase “nice hair” is the direct object of “has.” The noun phrase “iron teeth” is the direct object of the verb “has”.

  • I never learned from a woman who agreed with me.  

The noun phrase “a woman who agreed with me” acts as the object of the preposition “from.”

  • Every woman of courage is a woman of her word.  

The noun phrase “Every woman of courage” is the subject of the verb “is.” The noun phrase “a woman of her word” acts as a subject complement.

With noun phrases, more than one noun could be present in the noun phrase. Nouns and noun phrases could be seen together in noun phrases. However, it is important to note which noun is the head noun. For example, in the sentence above, ‘courage’ and ‘word’ are both nouns, but they are not the head nouns in the sentence. In this case, they are merely descriptive in the noun phrase.

The final thing about noun phrases is that they can be headed by pronouns just like nouns, and they could be quite long.

  • Anybody who wants to be governor so much that he’ll be able to spend two years organizing and campaigning is not to be trusted with the office.  

 Here, “anybody” is a pronoun. The rest of the noun phrase is an adjective clause modifying the head “noun”. The pronoun “he” can be used to replace the whole phrase.

Noun clauses

What is a clause?

A clause referred to as a part of speech which has a subject and a verb and functions as one part of speech. A noun clause can not stand alone as a sentence.

With this definition, it can be said that a noun clause functions as a noun in a sentence.

Many  noun clauses start with ,” “how”, “that” or a “wh”-word  like  “what,” “when,” “where,”  “who,” “which,” “why .

Here are some examples of sentences having noun clauses below. In each example, the noun clause is underlined.

  • I know that the news is true.
  • I saw how the man fell from the stairs.
  • I understand why it had to happen.
  • I know who said that.

 Usually, the opening word  i.e., “how,” “that” or the “wh”-word  is the subject of the noun clause.

Just like nouns, noun clauses can function as a subject, an object, or a complement in any given sentence.

In the four sentences given above, the noun clauses are direct objects. The examples below will show how noun clauses can act as subjects, and complements.

  • Whoever smelt it dealt it.

The noun clause is acting as a subject.

  • My command is whatever you wish

 The noun clause acts as a subject complement.

  • I will give what you said some thought.

In this sentence, the noun clause is acting as an indirect object.  The sentence cam be rewritten as I will give some thought to what you said.

Here are some other examples.

  • That he believes her own story is remarkable.

 In this sentence, the noun clause is the subject of the sentence. Starting a sentence with a noun clause starting “That” is acceptable, but it is not so common, other writers  will prefer to use “The fact that”. This makes the sentence much clearer.

  • She always knows when you are looking at her.  

 In this sentence, the noun clause “when you are looking at her” is the direct object of the verb “knows.”

  • It is a light thing for whoever keeps her foot outside trouble to advise and counsel the person who is suffering.

 In this sentence, the noun clause is the object of a preposition  “for” .

  • My relationships are between me and whomever I am with, not between me and the world.

 In this sentence, the noun clause is the object of a preposition  “between” .

  • Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.

 In this sentence, the noun clause acts as a subject complement.

Given that we have done so much on nouns, we will redefine a noun.

In the beginning of this discourse, we defined the noun as simply a “naming word.”. Now, we have talked about nouns being clauses, and phrases functioning as subjects, objects and complements in sentences. One way to make it easier as nouns are not just merely single words, as they can also occur as phrases and  clauses.

We can thus redefine a noun as any word or group of words which can be replaced with a pronoun and still have meaning in a sentence.

Let us look at one example to explain this definition.

E.g. She is with whoever she wants to be with.

She is with someone

Sometimes, a sentence may have a noun phrase which looks like a noun clause. It is necessary to identify when this happens. For example, in the sentence below.

A cynic is a person who looks for coffins when he smells flowers.

In the sentence above, the underlined part is a noun which acts as a subject complement. Given that it has who and he as subjects, it will be easy to think of it as a noun clause, but this is a noun phrase. The subjects and verbs are featured in the adjectival clause, “who looks around for a coffin when he smells flowers” . An adverbial clause “when he smells flower” is also present in the adjectival clause. The noun here is still a noun phrase.

Rules of nouns

English speakers would usually form noun phrases and noun clauses without thinking about the correct grammar to be used. It is important to correctly use these noun phrases and clauses in writing and in speech.

Here are three common rules associated with nouns in sentences.

1. You should capitalize only proper nouns in a sentence.

You should not capitalize a common noun such as dog, cup because it is important in the sentence. Only proper nouns should be capitalized, e.g John, Washington Carter.

Here is an example of a sentence that does not obey this rule.

  • Read the Instructions carefully. 

 In this sentence, ‘instructions’ is a common noun and does not require a capital letter.

2. Collective nouns are usually treated as singular, but when the context changes, it can be made plural.

Usually, collective nouns are expected to be singular. However, in a context where there is an emphasis on the individuals in the group, the collective noun can be treated as plural.

e.g. The group arrives before the audience. 

 In this sentence, the verb used is not “arrive” because the “group” is taken as singular.

  • The group were out of time. 

 Here, the verb is not “was” because “group” is treated as plural. It is preferable her if the context puts the focus on the individuals of the group.

 If you want to avoid any ambiguities about whether to take it as singular or plural, add something like ‘members of’ to the noun phrase and use a plural form when you want to talk about the individuals in the group.


  • The members of the group were out of time. 

 The word “members” here is the head noun of the noun phrase and takes the plural form.

  • If a noun phrase functions as the subject in a sentence, make sure that there is a subject-verb agreement with the head noun of the noun phrase.

e.g. The five hefty men have a lot in common

That pack of sweets is so expensive.

 In the first sentence, the head noun is men. Because men is plural, the verb ‘have’ is used.

In the second sentence, the head noun is ‘pack’ which is why ‘is’ is used as the verb.

When a noun phrase is the subject of a verb, the head noun governs the verb.

What Is a Noun? 1 | Scientific Editing
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By Bizhan Romani

Dr. Bizhan Romani has a PhD in medical virology. When it comes to writing an article about science and research, he is one of our best writers. He is also an expert in blogging about writing styles, proofreading methods, and literature.

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