In this instance, abstract refers to something that exists apart from concrete existence. An abstract noun may include an aspect, concept, idea, experience, state of being, trait, quality, feeling, or other entity that can’t be experienced with the five senses.
Recognizing When a Noun Is Abstract
Concrete nouns are people, places, or things that we can experience with our five senses. The abstract class of noun is the opposite. We can’t experience these nouns with our senses. If a noun is abstract, it describes something you can’t see, hear, touch, taste, or smell.
It can be difficult to recognize when a noun is abstract because there are so many words that can function in different ways. For example, some words might function as verbs in some cases and abstract nouns in other cases. Love and taste are two examples.
- I love my husband. [In this sentence, the word love expresses an action and is, therefore, acting as a verb.]
- Send them my love. [In this sentence, the word love functions as an abstract noun because it is a thing that exists beyond the five senses.]
- Sarah could taste cilantro in the salsa. [In this sentence, the auxiliary verb "could" functions with "taste" to illustrate action. She can physically taste the salsa.]
- Sarah has great taste in clothes. [In this sentence, taste functions in an abstract manner. Taste refers to her preferences.]
Forming Abstract Nouns Using Suffixes
Abstract forms of nouns are very common and an important part of communication. In many cases, these nouns are derived by adding a suffix or alteration to the root word. Child is a concrete noun, for example, but childhood is an intangible state, so it is abstract.
Nouns with the following suffixes are often abstract:
Using Abstract vs. Concrete Nouns in Writing
Abstract nouns name things that can't be seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched. We define them on some level and use them to share information. An important precaution for students and writers is the danger in being misunderstood when using these nouns in our writing.
Words like love, freedom, beauty, taste, and justice might mean different things to different people. To one person, good taste may mean eclectic and original; to another person, good taste may mean clean and modern.
Teachers and writing coaches often recommend using concrete nouns to support abstract references, thus clarifying the message you’re trying to convey. Although these nouns give expression to intangible entities, sentences with fewer abstract and more concrete nouns are typically more concise and clear.
Teachers begin differentiating abstract and concrete nouns in elementary school and reinforce the concept in middle school. ESL teachers may also complete lesson plans and activities based on abstract nouns. Any one of these resources will help you with learning or lesson planning:
- Big Learners - Worksheets on abstract and concrete nouns
- English the Easy Way - An abstract nouns quiz
- Jerz's Literacy Weblog - A nominalization lesson on abstract nouns
- Lesson Plans Page - A lesson plan on abstract nouns
- YourDictionary - Noun games
- YourDictionary - Noun quiz
- YourDictionary - Noun worksheets