Countable vs. Uncountable Nouns
Basic English Grammar Book for Students PDF File
A noun is a word that is the name of something (such as a person, animal, place, thing, quality, idea, or action) and is typically used in a sentence as subject or object of a verb or as object of a preposition.
A noun is defined as any member of a class of words that typically can be combined with determiners to serve as the subject of a verb, can be interpreted as singular or plural, can be replaced with a pronoun, and refer to an entity, quality, state, action, or concept.
Types of Nouns
Proper vs Common Nouns
Proper nouns are used to name SPECIFIC (or individual) persons, places, or things. Proper nouns begin with a capital letter.
Example: John, London, France, Mars
Common nouns are used to name NON-SPECIFIC persons, places, or things. Common nouns name people, places, or things in GENERAL. They are not capitalized unless they are used at the beginning of a sentence.
Example: man, city, country, planet
Abstract vs. Concrete Nouns
Abstract nouns are those referring to ideas, concepts, emotions, states, or qualities. Abstract nouns refer to “things” you can’t physically interact with. You can’t see, taste, touch, smell, or hear something named with an abstract noun.
Example: love, time, fear, freedom
Concrete nouns refer to tangible things that can be perceived through at least one sense.
Example: dog, tree, apple, moon, hand
Countable vs. Uncountable Nouns
Countable nouns are nouns that have singular and plural form. They can be used with a number or a/an before them. Anything that can be counted, whether singular – a dog, a house, a friend, etc. or plural – a few books, lots of oranges, etc. is a countable noun.
Example: car, desk, pen, house, bag
Uncountable nouns are nouns that cannot be counted. They often refer to substances, liquids, and abstract ideas. Even though uncountable nouns are not individual objects, they are always singular and one must always use singular verbs in conjunction with uncountable nouns.
Example: wood, milk, air, happiness
There is no more water in the pond.
Compound nouns are words for people, animals, places, things, or ideas, made up of two or more words. Most compound nouns are made with nouns that have been modified by adjectives or other nouns.
Usually, the first word describes or modifies the second word, giving us insight into what kind of thing an item is, or providing us with clues about the item’s purpose. The second word usually identifies the item.
Compound nouns are sometimes written as one word, like toothpaste, haircut, or bedroom. They are often referred to as closed or solid compound nouns.
Sometimes compound nouns appear as two separate words. These are often referred to as open or spaced compound nouns. Example: full moon, Christmas tree, swimming pool
Sometimes compound nouns are connected with a hyphen. They are called hyphenated compound nouns. Example: dry-cleaning, daughter-in-law, well-being
Collective nouns refer to groups of people or things. They are usually singular unless it is clear that the members within the group are acting as individuals, as indicated in the second example. Collective nouns are words for single things that are made up of more than one person, animal, place, thing, or idea. You cannot have a team without individual members; even so, we discuss a team as a single entity.
People who are new to writing often encounter some trouble with sentence agreement when using collective nouns. This is understandable, because a collective noun can be singular or plural, depending on a sentence’s context.
A colony of bees lives in my tree. (singular)
The jury disagree on the guilt of the accused. (plural)
Plural nouns are words used to indicate that there is more than one person, animal, place, thing, or idea. Most nouns form the plural by adding -s.
boy – boys
town – towns
pen – pens
Nouns ending in fricatives s, sh, ch, or x for the plural by adding -es.
bus – buses
wish – wishes
witch – witches
box – boxes
Note that some dictionaries list “busses” as an acceptable plural for “bus.”
Most nouns ending in -f drop the -f and add -ves.
half – halves
knife – knives
wife – wives
loaf – loaves
wharf – wharves
dwarf – dwarfs
roof – roofs
Noun ending in a consonant +y drop the y and add -ies
city – cities
sky – skies
spy – spies
daisy – daisies
Nouns ending in an -o proceeded by a consonant add -es.
tomato – tomatoes
potato – potatoes
hero – heroes
memo – memos
cello – cellos
stereo – stereos
There are nouns that maintain their Latin or Greek form in the plural.
Latin loanwords that end in –us, change the –us to an –i, –era, –ora, or –es; Example:
nucleus – nuclei
syllabus – syllabi
focus – foci
fungus – fungi
cactus – cacti (cactuses is also acceptable)
genus – genera
radius – radii
uterus – uteri
viscus – viscera
Latin loanwords that end in –is, change the –is to an –es, example:
thesis – theses
crisis – crises
analysis – analyses
axis – axes
Latin loanwords that end in –ex or –ix, change the –ex or –ix to –ices. Example:
index – indices (indexes is also acceptable)
appendix – appendices
matrix – matrices
vertex – vertices
Latin loanwords that end in –a, change the –a to an –ae, example:
formula – formulae (formulas also acceptable)
Latin loanwords that end in –um, change the –um to an –a, example:
addendum – addenda
millennium – millennia
datum – data
medium – media
Latin loanwords that end in –on, change the –on to an –a, example:
phenomenon – phenomena
automaton – automata
criterion – criteria
There are several nouns that have irregular plural forms. Plurals formed in this way are sometimes called mutated (or mutating) plurals or suppletive noun plural.
woman – women
child – children
man – men
person – people
mouse – mice
Thus, some irregular English nouns require a vowel sound change, or ablaut, between the singular and plural forms. foot – feet
goose – geese
louse – lice
man – men
mouse – mice
tooth – teeth
woman – women
Some irregular nouns in English are formed by the addition of an -en suffix.
child – children
ox – oxen
hose – hosen (archaic)
brother – brethren (archaic)
Greek loanwords that end in –ma, add the suffix -ta to the end of the word, example:
dogma – dogmata
schema – schemata
stigma – stigmata
stoma – stomata
For other irregular English nouns, the plural form is identical to the singular form.
A handful of nouns appear to be plural in form but take a singular verb.
The news is bad.
Gymnastics is a good sport.
Economics/mathematics/statistics is taught at my university.
Athletics is good for young people.
Linguistics is the study of language.
Darts is a popular game in England.
Billiards is played all over the world.
Another handful of nouns might seem to be singular in nature but take a plural form and always use a plural verb.
My pants are blue.
The scissors are on the table.
The glasses have fallen on the floor.
Some nouns have a fixed plural form and take a plural verb. They are not used in the singular, or they have a different meaning in the singular. Nouns like this include: trousers, jeans, glasses, savings, thanks, steps, stairs, customs, congratulations, tropics, wages, spectacles, outskirts, goods, wits
My trousers are too tight.
Her jeans are black.
Those glasses are his.
Compound words create special problems when we need to pluralize them. As a general rule, the element within the compound that word that is pluralized will receive the plural -s, but it’s not always that simple. Daughters-in-law follows the general rule, but cupfuls does not.
Hyphenated compounds add -s to the main word.
brother-in-law – brothers-in-law
maid-of-honor – maids-of-honor
How Nouns Function
Nouns have several important functions in a sentence:
- Nouns are subjects.Every sentence has a subject, which is a noun that tells us what that sentence is all about.
Example: John swung the baseball bat.
- Nouns are direct objects.These nouns receive action from verbs.
Example: John threw the book.
- Nouns are indirect objects.These nouns receive the direct object.
Example: Brad threw John the ball.
- Nouns are objects of prepositions.These nouns follow the prepositions in prepositional phrases. Example: John swung the baseball bat at Greg.
- Nouns are predicate nominatives.These nouns follow linking verbs and rename the subject.
Example: John is a good player.
- Nouns are object complements.These nouns complete the direct object.
Example: They named their dog Max.
DEFINITION: A possessive noun shows possession of an object by another object. Possessive comes from the same root as possession, something you own. Possessive nouns show ownership.
the car of John = John’s car
the room of the girls = the girls’ room
clothes for men = men’s clothes
the boat of the sailors = the sailors’ boat
FORMATION: To form the possessive, add ‘s (apostrophe + s) to the noun. If the noun is plural, or already ends in –s, just add an ‘ (apostrophe) after the -s.
Plurals that don’t end in –s, example:
For names ending in s, you can either add ‘s (an apostrophe + s), or just an apostrophe. The first option is more common. When pronouncing a possessive name, we add the sound /z/ to the end of the name.
Thomas’s book (or Thomas’ book)
James’s shop (or James’ shop)
the Smiths’s house (or the Smiths’ house)
To make hyphenated nouns possessive add ‘s (an apostrophe + s).
My father-in-law’s hamburger recipe is the best.
When two nouns are joined but the ownership is separate each noun shows possession with ‘s (an apostrophe + s).
Mary’s and Michael’s coats are red and black. (Each owns his or her own coat and they are different coats.)
If two nouns are joined and the possession is the same, the last noun receives ‘s (apostrophe + s).
Carol and John’s new car is the latest model.
FUNCTIONS OF THE POSSESSIVE: Possessive nouns can be used as nouns to express ownership of a noun previously mentioned, known as an antecedent.
Whose jacket is it? It’s John’s.
This pen? It’s Sean’s.
Possessive nouns can also be used as adjectives and are formed in the same way, by adding ‘s (apostrophe + s), or simply an apostrophe, depending on whether the noun is singular or plural.
John’s mother is running late.
Mrs. Brown’s colleague will not be coming to the meeting.
Possessives can also refer to restaurants, stores, colleges, and churches.
Let’s go to Pasquale’s for lunch.
Is St. John’s a Catholic church?
Harvard’s attendance was down last year.
Nouns that identify job titles can show possession as well.
The doctor’s white coat was hanging in his office.
The salesman’s pitch was very persuasive.
There are also some fixed expressions where the possessive form is used:
a day’s work
a month’s pay
in a year’s time
For God’s sake! (= exclamation of exasperation)
a stone’s throw away (= very near)
at death’s door (= very ill)
in my mind’s eye (= in my imagination)