What Is a Noun? Explanation, Usage, and Examples

What do a pelican, Canada, friendship, and your third-grade teacher have in common? They’re all nouns. And even though they may have different meanings (unless your third-grade teacher looks like a pelican), they all function in the same way, depending where they are in a sentence.

Pen and pencil icon with noun definition and list of examples Pen and pencil icon with noun definition and list of examples
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What Is a Noun?

Nouns are one of the eight types of speech in the English language. They describe:

  • people - words used to name a person (teacher, mother, friend
    • includes people’s names (Brian, Mr. Davidson, Liliana)
  • places - countries, cities, or states (Canada, Los Angeles, Missouri
    • includes general locations (school, supermarket, home)
  • things - any other item, including: 
    • everyday objects (stapler, car, dishwasher)
    • animals (pelican, cat, iguana)
  • ideas - words for concepts (independence, friendship, work)  
    • includes emotions (hatred, confusion, hope)

If you can see or touch it (like cat or banana) it’s a concrete noun. If it can’t be observed with the five senses (like love or sadness), it’s an abstract noun

When a noun includes two words (such as birthday cake or hot dog), it’s a compound noun.

10 Examples of Nouns in Sentences

Seeing examples of nouns in action helps you better understand how to use the different types of nouns. Notice that if you substitute one noun with another noun, the sentences still make sense.

  1. I need to feed my new goldfish. (concrete noun naming a thing)
  2. My aunt is staying with us for a while. (concrete noun naming a person)
  3. I am looking forward to visiting Disneyland. (concrete noun describing a place)
  4. We are eating pizza tonight. (concrete noun naming a thing)
  5. He needs a new computer. (concrete noun naming a thing)
  6. My bedroom is chilly this morning. (concrete noun naming a place)
  7. Seeing my baby sister fills me with love. (abstract noun naming an idea)
  8. This price is too high. (abstract noun naming an idea)
  9. The server asked if I’d like to order. (concrete noun naming a person)
  10. Tim really values honesty in a relationship. (abstract noun naming an idea)

What Do Nouns Do?

Although there are many types of nouns, they all do the same things in a sentence. They name things, perform actions, receive actions, and even redefine other nouns.

Nouns Name Things

All names of all things, such as people, cities, buildings, monuments, rivers, natural disasters, books, magazines, and songs, are nouns. 

When they’re naming something general, they’re uncapitalized common nouns. For example:

  • man
  • dog
  • country
  • restaurant
  • president

But when they’re naming something specific, they’re capitalized proper nouns.

  • Harvey
  • Mr. Fluffy
  • Norway
  • McDonald’s
  • President Eisenhower

Nouns Perform Actions

In a sentence, one noun performs the action (or verb). This noun is the subject of the sentence. For example:

  • Harvey bought a shovel. (Harvey is the noun, bought is the verb)
  • The dog chases squirrels. (dog is the noun, chases is the verb)
  • Norway celebrates Constitution Day. (Norway is the noun, celebrates is the verb)
  • That restaurant sells hamburgers. (restaurant is the noun, sells is the verb)
  • President Eisenhower won the election. (President Eisenhower is the noun, won is the verb)
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Nouns Receive Actions

When a noun comes after the verb, the action is happening to the noun. These nouns are the second nouns in the sentences, and they’re known as sentence objects. For example:

  • Harvey bought a shovel. (shovel is the noun, bought is the verb)
  • The dog chases squirrels. (squirrels is the noun, chases is the verb)
  • Norway celebrates Constitution Day. (Constitution Day is the noun, celebrates is the verb)
  • That restaurant sells hamburgers. (hamburgers is the noun, sells is the verb)
  • President Eisenhower won the election. (election is the noun, won is the verb)

Nouns Redefine Other Nouns

When nouns follow helping verbs, typically forms of is, they’re known as complements. These nouns are also known as predicate nominatives

Subject complements rename or redefine the sentence subject.

  • Harvey was a gardener. (The noun gardener defines the noun Harvey)
  • The dog is a mutt. (The noun mutt defines the noun the dog)

Object complements rename or redefine a sentence object.

  • Norway is a European country. (The noun European country defines Norway)
  • That restaurant is a McDonald’s. (The noun McDonald’s defines that restaurant.)

Singular and Plural Nouns

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).
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Using Nouns With Other Parts of Speech

When nouns aren’t naming things and performing verbs, they’re working with other parts of speech. Verbs, adjectives, pronouns, and articles work with nouns to make sentences as clear as possible.

Modifying Nouns With Adjectives

When you need to describe a noun in more detail, use an adjective. Adjectives often come before the noun they’re describing, and depending which one you use, an adjective can change a lot about the noun. 

In these examples, the adjective is in bold, and the noun it’s modifying is underlined. 

  • The white truck is in the driveway.
  • The broken truck is in the driveway.
     
  • A short customer takes out her money.
  • An angry customer takes out her money. 
     
  • An excited octopus swims by. 
  • A dangerous octopus swims by.

Replacing Nouns With Pronouns

You can replace a noun in a sentence with a pronoun. Replace subjects with subjective pronouns (such as I, you, he, she, it, or they).

  • The white truck is in the driveway.
  • It is in the driveway.
     
  • A customer takes out her money.
  • She takes out her money.
     
  • Some octopuses swim by. 
  • They swim by.

Using Articles With Nouns

Use an article before a noun to point out which one you're talking about. Indefinite articles (a or an) come before a general, nonspecific noun.

  • A truck is in the driveway.
  • A customer takes out her money.
  • An octopus swims by. 

But when the definite article the comes before a noun, you’re talking about a specific noun.

  • The truck is in the driveway.
  • The customer takes out her money.
  • The octopus swims by.
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Practice Your Noun Knowledge

Knowing what a noun is and knowing how to use one can be two different skills. See how much you’ve learned with some noun worksheets and noun quizzes.