Nouns in the English Language

Nouns in the English Language

Nouns are words (other than pronouns) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things ( common noun ), or to name a particular one of these ( proper noun ). Nouns in the English Language can play the role of subject, direct object, indirect object, subject complement, object complement, appositive, or adjective.

Nouns make up the majority of the English language. And more nouns appear every year as people come up with new ideas, media, and technologies. However, a noun’s basic function never changes. It is a person, place, or thing, and it may be one or more of the types of nouns that we all know and love.

Types of nouns

Type of NounFunctionExample
1) Common nouns
Common nouns are words that refer to undefined or generic people, places, or things. For example, the country is a common noun that refers to a generic place while the word Canada is not a common noun because it refers to a specific place. Common nouns are only capitalized when they begin sentences or are used in the names or titles of something, as in Grand Canyon or Iron, cat, girl, foot, country
2) Proper nounsProper nouns help distinguish a specific person, place, or thing. These words should be capitalized. The names and titles of things are always proper nouns, such as the brand name Starbucks and the personal name Jenny.Spain, Fido, Sony
3) Singular nounsSingular nouns are nouns that refer to only one person, place or thing. For example, a cat is one animal and a banana is one, cat, girl, foot, country
4) Plural nounsA plural noun refers to more than one of something. Many singular nouns just need an S added at the end to make them plural (e.g., bee becomes bees). For some nouns that already end with an S, you may need to add -es to the end to make their plural forms (e.g., classes and buses). Some singular nouns also change spelling when made plural (e.g. countries and babies).houses, cats, girls, countries
Not all nouns follow this pattern. Those that become plural in other ways are called irregular plural nouns. Some examples are man and men, wolf and wolves, foot and feet, and sheep and … sheep.
• irregular plural nouns:person and people
life and lives
mouse and mice
tooth and teeth
5) Concrete nounsA concrete noun is something that can be perceived through the five senses. If you can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell something, it uses a concrete noun.table, apple, rabbit, ear
6) Abstract nounsAbstract nouns are intangible ideas that can’t be perceived with the five senses, such as social concepts, political theories, and character traits. For example, the abstract noun anger refers to an emotion and the abstract noun courage refers to a quality a person, creativity, democracy, freedom
7) Collective nounsA collective noun is a noun that functions as a singular noun while referring to a group of people or things. A collective noun refers to a group that functions as one unit or performs the same action at the same time. For example: the team plays in the main gym.crowd, flocks, committee, a sum of money
8) Compound nounsA compound noun combines two or more words into one. Compound nouns can appear as a single word, multiple words used separately, or words connected by hyphens.dry-cleaning, jack-in-the-box, toothpaste, haircut, output, ice cream, potato chip, feedback
9) Countable nounsA countable noun (also known as a count noun) is one that you can count. When you have three books or 10 pennies, you are describing a noun that is countable.table, apple, rabbit, ear
10) Uncountable nounsAn uncountable noun (also known as a mass noun) is one that cannot be counted. For example, happiness cannot be counted. You don’t say that you have “a happiness” or “three happinesses.” Uncountable nouns typically don’t have plural forms.salt, seafood, luggage, advice, money

Understanding The Different types of nouns

Nouns form a large proportion of English vocabulary and they come in a wide variety of types. Nouns can name a person:

  • Albert Einstein
  • the president
  • my mother
  • a girl

Nouns can also name a place:

Nouns can also name things, although sometimes they might be intangible things, such as concepts, activities, or processes. Some might even be hypothetical or imaginary things.

  • shoe
  • faucet
  • freedom
  • The Elder Wand
  • basketball

Proper nouns vs. common nouns

One important distinction to be made is whether a noun is a proper noun or a common noun. A proper noun is a specific name of a person, place, or thing, and is always capitalized.

  • Does Tina have much homework to do this evening?
  • Tina is the name of a specific person.
  • Old Faithful is the specific name of a geological phenomenon.
  • I would like to visit Old Faithful.

The opposite of a proper noun is a common noun, sometimes known as a generic noun. A common noun is the generic name of an item in a class or group and is not capitalized unless appearing at the beginning of a sentence or in a title.

  • The girl crossed the river.

Girl is a common noun; we do not learn the identity of the girl by reading this sentence, though we know the action she takes. River is also a common noun in this sentence.

Types of common nouns

Common or generic nouns can be broken down into three sub-types: concrete nouns, abstract nouns, and collective nouns. A concrete noun is something that is perceived by the senses; something that is physical or real.

  • I heard the doorbell.
  • My keyboard is sticky.

Doorbell and keyboard are real things that can be sensed. Conversely, an abstract noun is something that cannot be perceived by the senses.

  • We can’t imagine the courage it took to do that.

Courage is an abstract noun. Courage can’t be seen, heard, or sensed in any other way, but we know it exists.

  • A pride of lions roamed the savanna.
  • That pack of lies is disgraceful.

A collective noun denotes a group or collection of people or things.

Pride of lions is also a collective noun and a venery term. Pack of lies as used here is a collective noun. Collective nouns take a singular verb as if they are one entity – in this case, the singular verb is.

Nouns as subjects

Every sentence must have a subject, and that subject will always be a noun. The subject of a sentence is the person, place, or thing that is doing or being the verb in that sentence.

  • Maria is happy.
  • Dogs are loyal.

Maria is the subject of this sentence and the corresponding verb is a form of to be (is).

Nouns as objects

Nouns can also be objects of a verb in a sentence. An object can be either a direct object (a noun that receives the action performed by the subject) or an indirect object (a noun that is the recipient of a direct object).

  • Give the books to her.

Books is a direct object (what is being given) and her is the indirect object (who the books are being given to).

Nouns as subject and object complements

Another type of noun use is called a subject complement. In this example, the noun teacher is used as a subject complement.

  • Mary is a teacher.

Subject complements normally follow linking verbs like to be, become, or seem. A teacher is what Mary is.

A related usage of nouns is called 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

An appositive noun is a noun that immediately follows another noun in order to further define or identify it.

  • My brother, Michael, is six years old.

Michael is an appositive here, further identifying the subject of the sentence, my brother.

Sometimes, nouns can be used adjectivally as well.

  • He is a speed demon.

Speed is a normally a noun, but here it is acting as an adjective to modify demon.

Plural nouns

Plural nouns, unlike collective nouns, require plural verbs. Many English plural nouns can be formed by adding -s or -es to the singular form, although there are many exceptions.


  • These two cats are both black.

Note the plural verb are.



Countable nouns are nouns which can be counted, even if the number might be extraordinarily high (like counting all the people in the world). Countable nouns can be used with a/an, the, some, any, a few, and many.

  • Here is a cat.

Cat is singular and—obviously—countable.

  • Here are a few cats.
  • Here are some cats.

Uncountable nouns are nouns that come in a state or quantity which is impossible to count; liquids are uncountable, as are things that act like liquids (sand, air). They are always considered to be singular, and can be used with some, any, a little, and much.

  • An I.Q. test measures intelligence.

Intelligence is an uncountable noun.

  • Students don’t seem to have much homework these days.

This example refers to an unspecified, unquantifiable amount of homework, so homework is an uncountable noun.

Introduction to Count and Noncount Nouns

Count and noncount nouns vary from language to language. In some languages, there are no count nouns (e.g., Japanese). In addition, some nouns that are noncount in English may be countable in other languages (e.g., hair or information).

Errors with count and noncount nouns can result in errors with article usage and with subject verb agreement.

Count Nouns

What is a count noun?

Count nouns can be separated into individual units and counted. They usually have both a singular and a plural form. Most English nouns are count nouns.

  • one phone, two phones
  • one dog, two dogs
  • one shirt, two shirts

However, a few countable nouns only have a plural form in English. Here are a few examples:

  • clothes
  • pants
  • jeans
  • shorts
  • pajamas

These are often used with some sort of quantifier, or quantity word, to show how they are counted (e.g., “a pair of” pants, “two pairs of” pants, “some” pants).

How are count nouns made plural?

Count nouns are usually made plural by adding an “-s” or an “-es.”

  • one boy, two boys
  • one folder, two folders
  • one box, two boxes
  • one church, two churches

If the noun ends in “-y,” change the “-y” to “-ies” to make it plural.

  • one family, two families
  • one party, two parties

However, if a vowel precedes the “-y,” add just an “-s” to make it plural.

  • one toy, two toys
  • one donkey, two donkeys

If the noun ends in “-o,” add “-es” to make it plural.

  • one potato, two potatoes
  • one tomato, two tomatoes

If the noun ends in “-f” or “-fe,” change the “-f” to a “-v” and add “-es.”

  • one thief, two thieves
  • one hoof, two hooves

Some count nouns have irregular plural forms. Many of these forms come from earlier forms of English.

  • one foot, two feet
  • one person, two people
  • one tooth, two teeth
  • one criterion, two criteria

When unsure of the plural form, please consult the dictionary. An English learner’s dictionary (such as Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, Oxford, or Longman) may be the most useful.

Important: Singular count nouns must have a word in the determiner slot. This could be an article, a pronoun, or a possessive noun (i.e., “a,” “an,” “the,” “this,” or a possessive noun). Please see our page on article usage for more information.

Noncount Nouns

What is a noncount noun?

Noncount (or uncountable) nouns exist as masses or abstract quantities that cannot be counted. They have no plural form. Although most English nouns are count nouns, noncount nouns frequently occur in academic writing.

Here are some common categories of noncount nouns. Like all things in English (and language in general), there may be exceptions.

A mass: work, equipment, homework, money, transportation, clothing, luggage, jewelry, traffic

A natural substance: air, ice, water, fire, wood, blood, hair, gold, silver

Food: milk, rice, coffee, bread, sugar, meat, water

An abstract concept: advice, happiness, health, education, research, knowledge, information, time

A game: soccer, tennis, basketball, hockey, football, chess, checkers

A disease: diabetes, measles, polio, influenza, malaria, hypothyroidism, arthritis

A subject of study: economics, physics, astronomy, biology, history, statistics

A language: Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, English

An activity (in the “-ing” form): swimming, dancing, reading, smoking, drinking, studying

Important: Noncount nouns do not use the indefinite articles “a” or “an.” They can, however, use the definite article “the” if what is being referred to is specific. They can also use no article if what is being referred to is general (generic) or nonspecific. Please see our page on article usage for more information.

Double Nouns

Some nouns can be both count and noncount. When they change from a count to a noncount noun, the meaning changes slightly. In the noncount form, the noun refers to the whole idea or quantity. In the count form, the noun refers to a specific example or type. When the noun is countable, it can be used with the indefinite article “a” or “an” or it can be made plural.

Check the published literature in your field of study to determine whether specific nouns are used in a countable or an uncountable way. Sometimes, a noun that is generally countable becomes uncountable when used in a technical way.

Here are a few examples:

  • life
    • Life is a gift. (noncount)
    • She leads a very fulfilling life. (count = This specifies the type of life. It could be a boring life, a dangerous life, and so on.)
  • cheese
    • I like cheese. (noncount)
    • The cheeses of France are my favorite. (count = This specifies the type of cheese.)
  • language
    • The study of language is called linguistics. (noncount)
    • English is often considered an international language. (count)

Quantity Words

Quantity words are used to add information about the number or amount of the noun. Some quantity words can only be used with countable singular nouns (e.g., computer, pen, and crayon), some can only be used with countable plural nouns (e.g., printers, flash-drives, and keyboards), some can only be used with uncountable nouns (i.e., paper, ink), and some can be used with both plural countable nouns and with uncountable nouns.

With countable singular nouns (e.g., computer, pen, crayon):

  • each
    • each computer
  • every
    • every computer
  • another
    • another computer

With countable plural nouns (e.g., printers, flash-drives, and keyboards):

  • several
    • several printers
  • a large/small number of
    • a large number of printers
    • a small number of printers
  • (not/too) many
    • not many printers
    • too many printers
    • many printers
  • a few*
    • a few printers
  • (very) few*
    • very few printers
    • few printers
  • fewer
    • fewer printers

With uncountable nouns (e.g., paper or ink):

  • a great deal of
    • a great deal of paper
  • a large/small amount of
    • a large amount of paper
    • a small amount of paper
  • (not/too) much
    • not much paper
    • too much paper
    • much paper
  • a little*
    • a little paper
  • (very) little*
    • very little paper
    • little paper
  • less
    • less paper

With countable plural nouns and with uncountable nouns (e.g., printers, flash-drives, keyboards; paper, or ink):

  • some
    • some printers
    • some ink
  • any
    • any printers
    • any ink
  • a lot of
    • a lot of printers
    • a lot of ink
  • hardly any
    • hardly any printers
    • hardly any ink
  • (almost) all
    • (almost) all printers
    • (almost) all ink
  • no
    • no printers
    • no ink
  • none of
    • none of the printers
    • none of the ink
  • not any
    • not any printers
    • not any ink
  • other
    • other printers
    • other ink

Note the difference between “few/little” (almost none) and “a few/a little” (some, but not many/much). “Few/little” tend to have a negative connotation. “A few/a little” tend to be more positive.

  • There are few solutions. (There are not many solutions.)
  • There are a few solutions. (There are some solutions.)
  • He received little education. (He did not receive much education.)
  • He received a little education. (He received some education.)

Possessive nouns

Possessive Nouns in the English Language are nouns which possess something; i.e., they have something. You can identify a possessive noun by the apostrophe; most nouns show the possessive with an apostrophe and an s. Not to be confused with personal possessive pronouns.

  • The cat’s toy was missing.

The cat possesses the toy, and we denote this by use of ‑’s at the end of cat.

When a singular noun ends in the letter s or z, the same format often applies. This is a matter of style, however, and some style guides suggest leaving off the extra s.

  • I have been invited to the boss’s house for dinner.
  • Mrs. Sanchez’s coat is still hanging on the back of her chair.

Plural nouns ending in s take only an apostrophe to form a possessive.

  • My nieces’ prom dresses were exquisite.