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NOUNS - CLASSIFICATIONS

As we have learnt in my article on parts of speech, nouns forms parts of the classes of words in a sentence.

It is the first on the list of the eight parts of speech: every speech or sentence is about a ‘named’ word in that speech or sentence and that word is a noun.

So what is a Noun?

A Noun is the name given to a person, a place, a thing, an animal, a feeling or an idea.

E.g. Josh is walking his dog on the park.

In this example, there are 3 nouns. Have you identified them?

They are: ‘Josh’, the name of a person; ‘dog’, name of an animal; and ‘park’, name of a place.

Nouns are grouped into various classifications: Names of people, places, animals and things are physical - we can see and touch them. They are called Concrete nouns and they can be identified with one or more of the five senses.

There are other nouns we cannot touch or see. They are the ideas and feelings and they are called Abstract nouns. They have no physical existence. E.g. Knowledge is power. ‘Knowledge’, an idea, and ‘power’, a skill, can neither be seen nor touched, so they are abstract nouns.

Another example is: ‘All happiness is in the mind’. ‘Happiness’ is a feeling and cannot be touched or seen; they are thus abstract.

Another group of nouns are common and proper nouns. Common nouns are generic nouns. They name non-specific people, places, things or ideas. Because these nouns don’t name anything in particular, they don't need to start with a capital letter unless they begin a sentence.

Proper nouns are names for specific people, places, things or ideas. It is usually written with a capital first letter to show its importance. Sometimes they contain two or more important words ( called compound nouns). In this case both words are capitalised as they are together considered as a proper noun. E.g Jubilee Park and National Geographic Magazine.

Proper nouns and common nouns are somehow related. Every proper noun has its corresponding common noun. However, it is not every common noun that has a corresponding proper noun. ‘Hand’ for instance is a common noun but does not have a corresponding proper noun. The table below shows examples of both nouns.

You can see from the table that man, woman, city and country are common nouns; there are several of each of them and their names can represent any of their lot.

On the other hand, Mr Osman, Ms Bridget, London and Ghana represent a particular man, woman, city and country respectively. So they are proper nouns and as a rule in English, they are written with a capital first letter.

Another group of nouns are Collective nouns. They are names given to a collection or a group of people, animals, places or things. We encounter collective nouns in our everyday speech. They are interesting words that form a class of their own. The list below are some examples that will help you to identify and understand them easily.

Using collective nouns in your writing or speech can be challenging. In a situation where you don’t know or can’t remember the collective noun for a lot of something you can use the phrase, ‘a group of’. So for a lot of angels, you can say ‘a group of angels’ and your meaning will be clear.

Meanwhile, learning and using some more collective nouns can help make your writing and speech more advanced. You can learn more examples from First Aid in English by Angus Maciver.

One most important area relating to nouns are countable and uncountable nouns. Countable nouns are individual people, animals, places or things which can be reasonably counted. Uncountable nouns are not individual objects; they cannot be counted.

Some common countable nouns are; chair, table, plate, egg and candle. With all of these we can use numbers to qualify them; meaning they will have plurals. We can say ‘two chairs, three tables, five candles’. If there’s only one of them (singular), one can say ‘a plate, an egg. So the Number game can be played with countable nouns.

My article on irregular plural nouns gives some explanation and examples of singular and plural nouns.

Uncountable nouns include water, sand, hair, intelligence and hope. Water, sand and hair are concrete but their individual parts cannot be counted. Intelligence and hope are abstract nouns and as such uncountable.

There are therefore no plural forms of uncountable nouns and we cannot use the articles ‘a’ or ‘an’ to determine them since there is no singular for them as well.

However, there can be unspecified quantities of some uncountable nouns and they can be described as ‘an amount of’ ( as in an amount of water and an amount of hair ).

Simultaneously, units are used to talk about specified quantities of uncountable nouns. For instance, we can say ‘two cups of water’ or ‘four buckets of sand’. Units of volume or weights like pounds, kilograms, ounces and litres can also be used.

To ask questions regarding quantities, we use the expression ‘How many’ for countable nouns. For e.g ‘How many books have you read this month?’ For uncountable nouns, we use ‘How much’ as in ‘How much water do you do you need?’

In giving answers to these questions, you can say: ‘I have read 10 books this month’; and ‘I need 8 litres of water.’

With that said, if the exact numbers or quantities are not known, we use quantity expressions. With countable nouns, we use ‘a few’ to mean a small number; as in ‘I have read a few books this month.’ For uncountable nouns like water, we use ‘a little’. So one will say, ‘I need a little water’.

Now what about talking about large quantities? For countable nouns we use ‘many’ or ‘a lot of’ as in ‘I have read many (a lot of) books’.

For uncountable nouns we can use ‘much’ but this is not often used. The one that is more common is ‘a lot of’; we will say ‘I need a lot of water’.

It can be realised that ‘a lot of’ is used in both types of nouns. ‘Some’ is also used in countable and uncountable nouns when their quantities are not specified. For example; ‘I will read some books’.

Comparing countable and uncountable nouns can be quite confusing. Shall we use the following statements for comparison:

‘There are 5 shops on my street.’

‘Your street has 10 shops.’

One can say, ‘Your street has more shops than mine.’ This is for countable nouns.

An example for uncountable nouns is:

‘My baby drinks 5 bottles of milk everyday.’

‘Her baby drinks 3 bottles of milk everyday.’

In comparison, my baby drinks more milk than her baby. This implies that ‘more’ is used when comparing with nouns that are a lot.

On the other hand when talking about uncountable nouns that are not a lot we use ‘less’ as in ‘Her baby drinks less milk than mine’ whiles for countable nouns that are not a lot, we use ‘fewer’ as in ‘My street has fewer shops’. So it is NEVER ‘less’ but ‘fewer’ for countable nouns.

We have therefore learnt four different sets of noun classifications: concrete nouns, having physical existence, and abstract nouns that cannot be touched or seen; common and proper nouns, with the rule being always to write proper nouns with first capital letter; collective nouns, where you need to learn more of them in order to understand and use them in your writing and speech; and countable and uncountable nouns have a lot more rules to learn, with the word ‘more’ used for both types of nouns whiles ‘fewer’ is used for only countable nouns with ‘less’ and ‘little’ used for only uncountable nouns.

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