Home > Literary Arts > The Noun

Learning and Understanding Nouns

Use these online Noun lessons for Grade 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, elementary, middle school, and high school students and teachers to learn and understand nouns and how nouns are used in English grammar.


Nouns and Noun Rules
Proper Noun and Common Noun
Singular Noun and Plural Noun
Possessive Case
Noun Functions

Nouns and Noun Rules

The noun is a naming word. It is used to identify people, places, objects, ideas, emotions -- in short, anything that can be named: John, Harlem, committee, amplification, table, hatred, baseball.

Nouns can be recognized by their form and their position in the sentence as well as by their naming function. Below are some of the things to look for when you are trying to identify the nouns in a sentence.

1. Most nouns can follow the word the or other determiners such as my, a, this: a truth, his moves, this infiltration.

2. All nouns can occur before and after verbs: His moves dazzled the spectators. Faith moves mountains.

3. All nouns can follow relationship words called prepositions: before winter, after Christmas, in his adversity.

4. Most nouns can take an s or an es at the end of the word to express the idea of more than one: soup, soups; church, churches; debate, debates.

5. Some nouns can take an apostrophe and an s or an apostrophe by itself to express belonging; the boy's bicycle; the boys' room; Dickens' novels.

6. Some nouns can start with a capital letter to indicate the name or the title of some specific thing or person: Wilson High School, Armando, America, September, Jew, Surgeon General.

7. Some nouns have endings such as -ness, -tion, -ity whose function is to indicate that the word is a noun: reasonableness, adversity, infiltration.

Proper Noun and Common Noun

The name or title of an individual, of a person, place, or thing, is usually expressed by a proper noun or nouns. They are always capitalized. When these nouns do not refer to the name of a person or thing, they are common nouns and are not capitalized. Compare:

          I will ask Mother.

          Yesterday she became a mother.

          I think that Crescent City is in Alberta.

          The city lay on a crescent in the river.

Among other things, proper nouns name people, continents, countries, provinces, states, counties, parishes, geographic regions, days of the week, months of the year, holidays, festivals (but not seasons): Christmas, winter, December, Friday, Alberta, the Netherlands, Judge Hernandez.

Singular Noun and Plural Noun

Most nouns can be singular or plural in form. The usual plural form adds s or es to the end of the word: sigh, sighs; fox, foxes; category, categories; calf, calves. Note the y and the f change before a plural ending. Trys and Skys are incorrect forms. There is less consistency with the f forms. Hoofs is possible; rooves is not. It is advisable to have a dictionary at hand when dealing with certain plurals.

Some nouns have irregular plural forms: child, children; goose, geese; sheep, sheep. Some nouns borrowed from other languages keep their original plural forms; datum, data; cherub, cherubim, crisis, crises; formula, formulae. Note that formula is used so frequently that the incorrect form formulas is being used by some educated speakers. It is advisable to have an up-to-date dictionary on hand when you are faced with foreign plurals.

Some nouns can normally occur in the singular form only; much dust, much dusts, more courage, more courages; less fun, less funs. These nouns are called mass nouns or noncountable nouns. Note that some determiners such as much and less work only with noncountable nouns, although recently there has been a tendency among educated speakers to use less people (people is a countable noun) rather than fewer people.

A few noncountable nouns can appear in the plural form if the idea of a difference of kind is stressed. There are some new instant coffees on the market. Several wheats grow in Australia.

Possessive Case

The possessive case of nouns is formed by added an apostrophe and an s to words that do not end with an s or a z sound: the boy's room, the children's school; and by adding only the apostrophe to words that do end with an s or a z sound: the boys' room, Dickens' novel. If, however, the word ending in s or z sound is a proper noun with only one syllable and an s are added to the word: Keats's sonnets, Santa Claus's reindeer.

Care must be taken in forming the possessive form of nouns ending with y because although the singular and plural forms sound the same way, they are spelled differently:

          The baby's cry [one baby's cry]

          the babies' murmurings [the murmurings of several babies]

When possession is shared by two or more nouns, the possessive case is used for the last noun in the series: Jose, Fred, and Edward's canoe.

When two nouns refer to the same person, the second noun is in the possessive case:

          the mother of the bride's yellow dress [The bride probably wore white. If the phrase sounds awkward, the use of two possessives does not improve it much; the bride's mother's yellow dress]. Better: The yellow dress of the bride's mother.

Nonanimate things do not normally "possess" anything. The possessive form using the preposition of is used in order to express an arrangement or part of nonanimate things:

          piles of coats NOT coats' piles

          the edge of the chisel NOT the chisel's edge

However, writers have long made exception to this rule in such matters as time, money, and transportation: a day's work, a dollar's worth, the ship's compass. Today more and more nonanimate things are taking the apostrophe form of the possessive: the razor's edge, the book's success, education's failure. Obviously, there is no clear rule when the razor's edge is approved and the chisel's edge is frowned on.

Remember too that when writing creatively you are allowed a certain amount of free rein, which is usually referred to as "poetic license".

Noun Functions

The noun can perform a variety of functions. The functions listed here are discussed in greater detail later in this section.

The noun can work as the subject, object, or complement of a finite verb or verbal.

          Being a recent arrival [complement] of the verbal being] from Puerto Rico, Margarita [subject of the verb was] was proud that she could speak Spanish [object of verb speak] as well as English.

The noun can work as the object of a preposition.

          Margarita, who came from Puerto Rico [object of the preposition from], spoke excellent Spanish in her home [object of the preposition in] and good English at school [object of the preposition at].

The noun can work after another noun as a modifier or an appositive, as it is also called.

          my brother Charles

          his problem, a damaged retina

The noun can work before another noun as a modifier.

          a problem child      a noun clause      a bottle opener

The noun can work as a modifier of an adjective or a verb.

          They were battle weary. [modifier of the adjective weary]

          They arrived yesterday. [modifier of the verb arrived]

The noun in the possessive case can work as a determiner introducing another noun.

          the bride's mother [The bride's introduces mother. The article the belongs to bride's, not to mother.]


To Use other lessons in our Language Arts go to out Language Arts Index page