What Is a Noun? Explanation and Use

The answer to the question “What is a noun?” is fairly simple. “Noun” is the term for any word that names a person, place or thing. Of course, as with everything in English grammar, nothing is as simple as it seems at first glance. Nouns can also name vague concepts, such as an idea or emotion.

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Nouns Name People, Places or Things

Some nouns are concrete and others are abstract. Nouns that name people, places or things are referred to as concrete nouns. The term concrete is used because you can actually experience concrete nouns directly via one or more of your five senses.

  • people - A person’s name is a noun, as are other words that can be used to name a person, such as mother, father, sister, brother, student, or teacher.
  • places - Words used to name places are nouns, such as names of countries, states, cities, or streets, and locations like home, school, building or office.
  • things - Words that name things are nouns, including terms for pets (dog or cat), items you play with (game or ball), and objects in your house (stove or bed).

This list of noun examples includes several illustrations of concrete nouns, along with other types.

Nouns Name Concepts, Ideas or Emotions

Nouns that name vague or intangible concepts, ideas and emotions are called abstract nouns. These are nouns because they are, in fact, things. They just aren’t ones that can be observed with senses.

  • concepts - Words that describe intangible concepts represent abstract nouns. Examples include intellect, faith, comfort, or satisfaction.
  • ideas - Terms that name intangible ideas are abstract nouns. Examples include things like integrity, loyalty, freedom, or patriotism.
  • emotions - Words that express feeling are abstract nouns. For example, a person can feel love for another person. A person can feel happiness, sympathy or grief.

Review these examples of abstract nouns for more words that represent these types of nouns.

10 Examples of Nouns in Sentences

Looking at nouns in terms of whether they are concrete or abstract is the best way to begin understanding what a noun is. Review these example sentences to reinforce what you have learned about nouns so far. The nouns in each sentence are in bold text.

  1. I need to feed my new goldfish. (concrete noun - thing)
  2. My aunt is staying with us for a while. (concrete noun - person)
  3. I am looking forward to visiting Disneyland. (concrete noun - place)
  4. We are eating pizza tonight. (concrete noun - thing)
  5. He needs a new computer. (concrete noun - thing)
  6. My bedroom is chilly this morning. (concrete noun - place)
  7. I feel regret for telling a fib. (abstract noun - emotion)
  8. There is no honor in cheating. (abstract noun - idea)
  9. The server asked if I’d like to order. (concrete noun - person)
  10. She is too dishonest for me. (abstract noun - idea)
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Noun Explanation: What Nouns Do

Now that you know what nouns are, it’s a good idea to explore what nouns do. This is a great way to improve your ability to recognize and properly use nouns in sentences.

Name Things

Nouns name things. All names of all things (people, cities, buildings, monuments, rivers, natural disasters, books, magazines, songs, etc.) are nouns.

Act as Sentence Subjects

Generally, the subject of a sentence is the thing that comes right before the verb in a sentence. Consider this sentence as an example: "The dog ate your shoe." The verb is “ate” so “the dog” is the subject. This particular subject consists of an article (the) and a noun (dog). There is another noun in the sentence (shoe).

Get Modified by Adjectives

If a word is described by an adjective, it’s probably a noun. For example, car is a noun. A car could be described as old, blue, shiny, hot, or wonderful, which are all adjectives. Not all nouns are modified by adjectives, but any word that is described by an adjective will either be a noun or pronoun.

Accompany Articles

Nouns are often placed next to an article (a, an or the) in a sentence. If a word follows an article fairly closely, it's probably a noun. If there's an adjective in there, it'll be between the noun and the article. In that case, consider if the word is naming something you can feel, see, smell, taste or touch. If so, the word is a noun. If it describes something you can feel, see, smell, taste or touch (rather than naming it), then it is an adjective.

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Act as Objects and Complements

Complements follow state-of-being verbs like be, seem and become. Objects follow other verbs as well as prepositions.

  • In the sentence, "Amy is a teacher," the complement is a teacher.
  • In the sentence, "Billy hugged a teacher," the object is a teacher.
  • In both cases, teacher is a noun.

More Noun Characteristics

Now that you know the functions nouns perform in addition to being aware of what they are, the next step is to learn about some of the key characteristics of this part of speech.

Nouns Can Be Pluralized

Nouns can be singular (refers to one) or plural (refers to more than one). Most English nouns can be made plural simply by adding an "s" to the end of the word, but there are a few irregular plural nouns that are exceptions to that rule.

  • Nouns with a singular form that ends in “s,” “z,” “x,” “ch” or “sh” need to add -es to become plural (boss/bosses, box/boxes, watch/watches, bush/bushes).
  • Certain nouns that end in “o” also need -es to become plural (potato/potatoes, hero/heroes, volcano/volcanoes).
  • For nouns that end in “f” or “fe,” change the “f” to a “v” and add -es (knife/knives, hoof/hooves, wolf/wolves).
  • If a singular noun ends in a single or double consonant followed by “y,” change the “y” to “i,” and add -es (lady/ladies, bully/bullies, spy/spies).

English Nouns with Gender

In English, most nouns are not naturally male or female like they are in many other languages. The fact that so many nouns aren’t gendered makes it fairly easy to write in an unbiased way. However, there are a few commonly used nouns that do indicate masculinity or femininity.

  • actor/actress
  • waiter/waitress
  • prince/princess
  • king/queen
  • boy/girl
  • man/woman
  • gentleman/lady
  • uncle/aunt
  • father/mother
  • grandfather/grandmother
  • brother/sister
  • son/daughter
  • nephew/niece
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Types of Nouns

There are several types of nouns within the broad categories of concrete and abstract nouns. As you continue your studies related to the proper use of nouns, you’ll want to learn about possessive nouns and compound nouns as well as many other types of nouns.

Practice and Quiz Your Noun Knowledge

Mastering the definition of what a noun is and being able to use nouns properly are foundational English language skills. So much of what you will need to know in order to communicate effectively is based on being able to use nouns properly, then mastering the other parts of speech.

  • worksheets - Use these noun worksheets to practice what you have learned and reinforce the information.
  • quizzes - Use these noun quizzes to test your knowledge and verify what you know and what you may need to study just a bit more.

Expanding Your English Language Skills

Once you are clear on the definition of a noun and can identify and use nouns correctly, you’ll be ready to move on to the next step in your language arts education. Spend some time studying noun phrases. Then, turn your attention to mastering the different types of pronouns.