Nouns – Definition, Meaning, Types & Examples

08.05.24 Language rules Time to read: 25min

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Nouns-01

Nouns are a fundamental element of sentence structure, serving to identify and name people, places, things, or ideas, thus anchoring the narrative in context. In grammar, they adhere to a variety of language rules regarding their proper usage. The correct use of them is crucial for depicting and communicating clear and effective messages in academic writing. This article offers a deeper understanding of the types of nouns, their functions, and the rules for their application.

Nouns in a nutshell

Nouns belong to the largest class of words in the English language, naming people, places, things, ideas, or concepts. They are one of the core parts of speech and play a crucial role in forming sentences. In sentences, they function as subjects, objects, indirect objects, subject complements, object complements, appositives, and modifiers, and can be categorized into various types of nouns.

Definition: Nouns

Nouns, also called substantive nouns or simply substantives, are a part of speech in languages that name a place, person, object, quality, quantity, or idea. In essence, they serve as subjects of sentence structures, objects of verbs or prepositions, and can also act as complements to a verb. English nouns are one of the fundamental and foundational elements of a sentence, providing the key subjects and objects around which verbs act. They are crucial in constructing meaningful sentences, allowing speakers and writers to convey who/what is performing an action, being affected by an action, and introducing topics of discussion. They can be categorized into various types, as outlined in the following:

  1. Abstract: Names of ideas, qualities, or states that can’t be perceived by the senses.
  2. Collective: Represent groups of people, animals, or things.
  3. Common: General names for a place, person, or object.
  4. Concrete: Names of tangible objects that can be perceived by the senses.
  5. Countable: Nouns that can be counted.
  6. Proper: Specific names of places, persons, or organisation s.
  7. Uncountable: Masses or concepts that can’t be counted.

Examples of noun types

Here is a short list of the various types used in sentence structures, illustrating their proper use.

Examples

  • His honesty is admirable. (Abstract)
  • The team celebrated their victory. (Collective)
  • The dog barked loudly. (Common)
  • She handed me a cup of (Concrete)
  • He read three books last month. (Countable)
  • London is a vibrant city. (Proper)
  • There isn’t enough evidence to prove the claim. (Uncountable)

History

Nouns and their use in language are deeply rooted in the history of human communication itself. As names for people, places, things, and concepts, they are among the oldest parts of speech in any language. Their evolution reflects the development of human societies, cultures, and cognitive abilities to categorize and conceptualize the world. There is a range of aspects from which they evolved, which are outlined below.

Nouns, also known as substantives, were used from nearly the beginning of linguistic communication to identify important objects in the environment, such as water, trees, or lions, and define social statuses, such as father, daughter, or chief. However, the specifics of these early stages are mostly speculative based on the reconstructions and the study of language, specifically, contemporary hunter-gatherer languages.

With the advent of writing systems, the history of substantives becomes clearer. Some of the earliest writing records stem from the Ancient Sumerian cuneiform, around 3400 BC, and the Egyptian hieroglyphs, around 3200 BC. These writing systems were used to document events, transactions, and stories, where they took on a more profound and crucial role in identifying the subjects and objects of actions.

Most languages in Europe and many Asian countries belong to the family of Indo-European languages. They have been studied thoroughly to obtain a better grasp of the evolution of substantives, as they have a complex system of declensions, where they change based on their grammatical case, number, and gender.

Ancient Greek and Latin belong to the Indo-European languages and have had a substantial influence on the votaxiulary of many contemporary languages, in particular, science and academia. Their grammatical structures and complex system of substantive declensions have been adopted in most languages that originate from them.

Even in modern language, substantives are ever-evolving and new ones are being created on the regular to name new technologies, discoveries, and concepts. The process of their formation includes compounding, derivation, and borrowing from other languages. The English language, for instance, has a rich collection of substantives borrowed from Latin, Greek, and French, reflecting its history of trade, cultural exchange, and invasions.

Nouns and noun phrases remain a central topic in linguistics to this day, including morphology, syntax, and semantics. In their study, linguists research what functional patterns they follow in various languages, how they convey meaning, and how they interact with other parts of speech. The evolution of digital communication and global interconnection also profoundly impacts the development of them, with new words rapidly spreading and becoming integrated into languages globally.

Grammatical categories

Nouns can be classified into various grammatical forms based on different criteria such as their function, structure, and meaning. This is essential to help structure sentences and convey meanings accurately. The following outlines some key grammatical categories of nouns.

  1. Number: Nouns can be distinguished between singular and plural forms, indicating the entity.
  2. Compound nouns: They refer to a combination of two or more words, creating a single noun that often describes a specific type of object or person.
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Types of nouns

In the English language, nouns can be categorized into several types based on different criteria such as their nature, number, and function. The subsequent section will delve into the main types.

Common and proper nouns

Common and proper nouns are foundational elements in understanding the classification of nouns in general. They serve distinct roles in sentences, helping to identify general categories of things versus specific entities. Moreover, they follow different capitalization conventions, where common nouns are never capitalized, and proper nouns are always capitalized. Another distinction lies in the use of articles and determiners. While common nouns typically need an article like “a,” “an,” “the,” “this,” “that,” or “every,” proper nouns often stand alone, although there are exceptions depending on the context and usage.

Common nouns

This is a subclass of nouns that generally names a collection of people, places, things, or ideas. They are not capitalized unless they start a sentence or are part of a title that follows a certain capitalization. Essentially, they are broad and nonspecific. The following lists common noun examples.

Examples

  • Person: doctor, firefighter, teacher
  • Place: city, part, restaurant
  • Thing: car, computer, table
  • Idea: courage, freedom, happiness

Proper nouns

Differently, proper nouns are the subclass of nouns that name specific people, places, things, or ideas, and are always capitalized, regardless of where they are positioned in a sentence. They identify unique and particular entities and distinguish them from the general class of entities denoted by common nouns. Here are proper noun examples.

Examples

  • Person: Jennifer, Laeonardo da Vinci, Queen Elizabeth
  • Place: London, Mount Everest, the Pacific Ocean
  • Thing: Eiffel Tower, iPhone, Titanic
  • Idea: The Civil Rights Act, The Theory of Relativity, World War II

Generic nouns

Generic nouns refer to the entyre class or category of a collection of people, animals, things, or ideas. They use a common or occasionally a proper noun in a way that represents all members of a category. Regardless of being able to be singular and plural, they always refer to the entyre category of whatever is being discussed. In usage, all generic nouns are common nouns when they categorize things broadly, but not all common nouns are used generically. The distinction lies in whether the noun is referring to the whole group as a concept or just an unspecified member of the group.

Examples

Singular:

  • A dog is a loyal animal—referring to all dogs in general.
  • The tiger is an endangered species—referring to all tigers.

Plural:

  • Dogs are loyal animals—referring to dogs as a category.
  • Tigers are endangered animals—referring to the entyre species of tigers.

Sporadically, a proper noun can be used generically to refer to an item similar to specific branded items. Here are a few examples of generic nouns that are also proper nouns.

Examples

  • Can you pass me a Kleenex? — referring to any tissue, not only made by Kleenex.
  • I put the leftovers in a Tupperware — referring to any food container for storing food.
  • I’ll Google it—referring to searching for information online, regardless of the search engine.

Concrete and abstract nouns

The classification of concrete nouns and abstract nouns helps distinguish between things that have a physical presence and can be experienced through senses, and those that are intangible, representing ideas, emotions, or concepts without a physical form. While concrete nouns refer to the physical world around us, allowing for clear and direct communication about our environment and experiences, the abstract type plays a critical role in enriching our language, providing us with the means to discuss and explore complex ideas, emotions, and principles, thereby elevating our ability to communicate beyond the immediate and tangible. It is essential to understand the differences between these two types to convey communication effectively and to add depth and precision to our expressions.

Concrete nouns

Concrete nouns denote people, objects, places, or even occurrences that can be seen, touched, heard, smelled, or tasted. They are tangible and perceptible through at least one of the five senses. This category entails a vast variety of everyday objects to natural phenomena. The following examples outline a few.

Examples

  • Coffee: A beverage that can be tasted and smelled.
  • Silk: A type of fabric that can be felt.
  • Sunset: An occurrence that can be seen.
  • Thunder: A sound caused by lightning that can be heard.
  • Tree: A living organism with a boot and branches, visible and touchable.

Abstract nouns

On the other hand, this type represents ideas, qualities, feelings, concepts, or other entities that cannot be directly perceived through the senses. They are intangible and often encapsulate complex emotions, states of being, or philosophical concepts. Abstract nouns are often used in a figurative sense and are crucial in expressing thoughts and emotions that are not tied to concrete physical objects. Below, you can find common examples.

Examples

  • Beauty: A quality that gives pleasure to the senses or mind without physical manifestation.
  • Justice: A concept of moral fairness that cannot be physically touched or seen.
  • Love: A profound, complex emotion that cannot be physically measured or seen.
  • Time: A continuous sequence of existence, not observable through the senses.
  • Wisdom: A quality of having experiences, knowledge, and good judgment.

Countable and uncountable nouns

In English grammar, nouns can be categorized as countable or uncountable based on their ability to form plurals and be quantified. This distinction is fundamental as it affects how nouns are used with verbs and quantifiers, shaping the structure of sentences and the choice of accompanying words. Understanding the difference between countable nouns vs. uncountable nouns is integral to mastering the English language, particularly in the contexts of using articles, quantification, and subject-verb-agreement. It influences grammar rules regarding verb conjugation, indefinite and definite article usage, and the selection of quantifiers. This understanding not only aids in effective communication but also in avoiding common grammatical errors, and enhancing clarity and accuracy in expression.

Countable nouns

As the name already reveals, this type is also referred to as count nouns can be counted, meaning they have both singular and plural forms. They can be used with numbers and the indefinite and definite articles “a,” “an,” or “the” in their singular form and represent people, items, or concepts that are considered individual units or entities that can be added up. In their plural form, they can be preceded by quantifiers or numbers such as “many,” “a few,” “several,” “more,” etc., to indicate quantity. The following lists examples of count nouns in their singular and plural forms.

Examples

Countable noun Singular Plural
Apple

  • One apple

  • An apple

  • The apple


  • Two apples

  • Apples

  • The apples

  • More apples

Book

  • One book

  • A book

  • The book


  • Two books

  • Books

  • The books

  • More books

Idea

  • One idea

  • An idea

  • The idea


  • Two ideas

  • Ideas

  • The ideas

  • More Ideas

Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns, also known as noncountable nouns, mass nouns, or non-count nouns, cannot be counted, as they represent a mass or concept that is indeterminate in terms of quantity. They do not have a plural form and are treated as singular, requiring singular verbs. Additionally, they cannot be used in combination with indefinite articles and typically require quantifiers that do not imply specific numbers or countability, such as “some,” “much,” or “a lot of.” The following table shows relevant examples.

Examples

Uncountable noun Singular Quantifier
Information

  • The information

  • Information


  • Some information

  • Much information

  • A lot of information

Rice

  • The rice

  • Rice


  • Some rice

  • Much rice

  • A lot of rice

Water

  • The water

  • Water


  • Some water

  • Much water

  • A lot of water

Collective nouns

Collective nouns refer to people, animals, or objects as a collective group or single entity. They not only denote quantity but also offer a glimpse into the language’s culture by illustrating how people perceive and categorize their surroundings. Thus, apart from being functional in serving to group entities together, they also add richness and creativity to the language, allowing for vivid and specific descriptions of our environment. The unique aspect of this type is their ability to convey the idea of multiplicity and unity simultaneously. The following shows examples of people, animals, and objects in sentences.

Examples

People:

  • The class of students was excited about the upcoming field trip.
  • The choir of singers filled the hall with beautiful harmonies.
  • The crew of sailors worked tyrelessly to navigate through the storm.

Animals:

  • Every morning, a flock of birds gathers at the lake to feed.
  • We were lucky to spot a pride of lions resting under the shade.
  • The pack of wolves moved silently through the forest.

Objects:

  • The fleet of ships arrived at the harbour just before dawn.
  • Her home was like a library of books with shelves covering every wall.
  • He gathered a bundle of sticks to start a fire.

Singular and plural collective nouns

Collective nouns can take a singular or plural verb, depending on whether the sentence emphasizes the group as a whole (singular) or the individual members of the group (plural). This is often the case in British English, where they can take either singular or plural verb forms based on the context. In American English, however, singular collective nouns are more pronounced, emphasizing the group as one whole. The following showcases examples of them in their singular and plural form.

Examples

Singular:

  • A flock of birds is flying south for the winter.
  • The committee decides on the new policy.
  • The team wins the championship.

Plural:

  • The jury are divided in their opinions.
  • The committee have different opinions on the matter.
  • The team are wearing their different home jerseys.

Compound nouns

When two or more words are combined and function together as a single unit to name a person, place, object, or concept, we speak of compound nouns. These components can be a combination of nouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositions, or gerunds, however, as a whole, function as a single noun in a sentence. The formation of this type is a common way to expand votaxiulary, allowing for precise and nuanced descriptions of objects, concepts, and experiences. There are three forms:

  • Closed form: As one word
  • Open form: Two or more separate words
  • Hyphenated form: Connected by a hyphen

Below, you will find examples of each type to grasp a better understanding of the constructs and formations.

Closed form

In this combination, several words are written together, merging two or more elements without spaces or hyphens between them. The compounds can include various combinations of word types, which are outlined in the examples below.

This combination is common and often indicates a type of object or concept.

Examples

  • Sunflower: sun (noun) + flower (noun)
  • Toothpaste: tooth (noun + paste (noun

In these compounds, an adjective modifies a noun to create a new noun, typically describing a particular kind of object or person.

Examples

  • Blackboard: black (adjective) + board (noun)
  • Greenhouse: green (adjective) + house (noun)

Here, to create a single noun, a verb and a noun are joined to describe objects related to the action the verb refers to.

Examples

  • Breakfast: to break (verb) + fast (noun)
  • Washroom: to wash (verb) + room (noun)

The reversed version is less common and involves a noun followed by a verb to describe something typically related to the verb’s action.

Examples

  • Haircut: hair (noun) + to cut (verb)
  • Sunset: sun (noun) + to set (verb)

Here, a preposition is followed by a verb, creating a new noun often related to the action directed towards something or somewhere.

Examples

  • Input: In (preposition) + to put (verb)
  • Overkill: Over (preposition) + to kill (verb)

A gerund refers to the “-ing” inflection of a verb, forming a noun. Combined with another noun, it describes objects or concepts related to the activity the gerund refers to. These types are often preferred to be written apart, nonetheless, there are a few examples where they can also be written in closed form.

Examples

  • Diningtable: Dining (gerund) + table (noun)
  • Swimmingpool: Swimming (gerund) + pool (noun)

This combination is also a less common form of compound nouns and mainly describes something that possesses the quality of the adjective. In the following examples, the words refer to a measure to describe a quantity of a substance, where the ending “-ful” derives from the adjective “full.”

Examples

  • Cupful: cup (noun) + full (adjective)
  • Spoonful: spoon (noun) + full (adjective)

Open form

Similar to the closed form, the open form consists of two or more words that function together as one noun but are written apart, maintaining a visible separation. These compounds can include a range of different word combinations, as showcased in the examples below.

This is one of the most common combinations of the open form, typically denoting a specific type of person, object, or concept.

Examples

  • Coffee table: coffee (noun) + table (noun)
  • Ice cream: ice (noun) + cream (noun)

In these compounds, an adjective describes the following noun, creating a specific noun phrase.

Examples

  • Full moon: full (adjective) + moon (noun)
  • Public school: public (adjective) + school (noun)

Here, the compounds consist of a verb followed by a noun, typically describing places or objects associated with the action of the verb. They are commonly written in the closed form; however, there are exceptions where both forms are correct.

Examples

  • Swim suit: to swim (verb) + suit (noun)
  • Love language: to love (verb) + language (noun)

This is a rare combination of compounds but can be found in specific phrases, often established by common usage. The following examples can also be a construct of noun + noun.

Examples

  • Attorney general: attorney (noun) + general (adjective)

This combination is more common in the English language and consists of an “-ing” inflected verb, used as a noun, and a verb. It typically describes a place or object related to the action of the verb.

Examples

  • Running water: running (gerund) + water (noun)
  • Washing machine: washing (gerund) + machine (noun)

Here, a preposition modifies a noun, which is not as common. Here is an example of a compound noun beginning with a preposition and followed by a noun.

Examples

  • Under secretary: under (preposition) + secretary (noun)

Hyphenated form

When two or more words are connected by hyphens, creating a single noun with a specific meaning, we speak of hyphenated compound nouns. This form is used to clarify the relationship between the words, ensuring the compound word is understood as a single entity. Hyphenation can prevent misreading or confusion, and make the combined meaning of the words clear. The use of hyphens can also depend on Style Guides and personal or editorial preference, with some compounds starting as hyphenated forms before evolving into closed or open forms as their usage becomes more widespread and accepted. Here are examples of hyphenated compounds across different combinations.

This compound form constellation is not that common and typically specifies a particular person, idea, or object. It is often in combination with other compound nouns, conjunctions, or prepositions.

Examples

  • Bed-and-breakfast: bed (noun) + and (conjunction) + breakfast (noun)
  • Father-in-law: father (noun) + in-law (compound noun)

When formed by an adjective and a noun, it creates a descriptive entity that combines the qualities of both words into a single, concise concept. These compounds effectively describe specific types of objects, concepts, or people, where the adjective modifies the noun and the hyphen clarifies their combined meaning as one unit.

Examples

  • High-speed: high (adjective) + speed (noun)
  • Long-term: long (adjective) + term (noun)

When hyphenated compounds are formed from a verb and a preposition combination, they typically describe actions, processes, or objects related to the action implied by the verb.

Examples

  • Break-in: to break (verb) + in (preposition)
  • Mix-up: to mix (verb) + up (preposition)

Similar to the verb + preposition combination, the combination of a gerund and prepositions can create compound nouns and refer to actions, processes, or objects related to the action the gerund indicates.

Examples

  • Drying-up: drying (gerund) + up (preposition)
  • Washing-up: washing (gerund) + up (preposition)

This type of compound, starting with an adverb or preposition and followed by a noun, is not as common as other combinations. However, they often serve to define specific concepts or roles clearly. They are useful for specifying relationships or positions that might be ambiguous without the hyphenation.

Examples

  • In-law: in (prepositions) + law (noun)
  • Over-the-counter: over (preposition) + the counter (definite noun)
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Possessive nouns

Nouns that imply possession, ownership, or association between different entities, are referred to as possessive nouns. They show a relationship between two things, where one thing belongs to the other. In English, they are formed by adding an apostrophe and, in most cases, an “s” to the end of a noun. Which rule to apply to create a possessive noun, depends on the ending and whether it is singular or plural. The following section will show you how to construct them as singulars and plurals.

Singular nouns

The typical formation of a singular possessive noun is done by adding an apostrophe followed by “s” at the end. This construction shows that the noun owns or is closely associated with something. This rule applies to most singular forms, even those ending in “s,” although some Style Guides suggest only using an apostrophe after singular nouns ending in “s,” e.g., James’ book instead of James’s book. However, the most commonly accepted practice is to add “-‘s” to form the possessive, regardless of the final letter of the word. Here are a few examples.

Examples

  • The car’s engine: indicating the engine is part of the car.
  • The child’s toy: signifying the toy belongs to the child.
  • The dog’s leash: implying the leash belongs to the dog.
  • The teacher’s book: showing the book is owned by the teacher.
  • The woman’s purse: indicating the purse is owned by the woman.

As mentioned before, usage can vary with some Style Guides and individual preferences simply to add an apostrophe after the “s,” when the word ends in an “s.” The following shows examples of each usage.

Examples

Ending with -‘s (traditional) Ending with -‘ (alternative)
Charles’s book Charles book
Chris’s apartment Chris apartment
James’s car James car
Jess’s guitar Jess guitar
Thomas’s report Thomas report

Plural nouns

There are two different ways of forming a plural possessive noun, depending on whether it ends in “s” or not. When it ends in “s,” you simply add an apostrophe after it. If it does not end in “s,” you add an apostrophe followed by an “s” at the end of the word. The following shows plural possessive noun examples for both cases.

Examples

Plural nouns ending in “s” Plural nouns not ending in “s”
The cars engines The cars engines
The dogs leashes The men’s clothing
The houses roofs The mice’s nest
The students books The people’s choice
The teachers lounge The women’s restroom

Joint possession

A joint possession means that two or more people own something together, indicating shared ownership. In this case, the possessive form is typically applied only to the last person in the sequence, suggesting that the item or items belong jointly to all the individuals mentioned. The following examples illustrate this special case rule.

Examples

  • Alex and Sam’s apartment: implies that Alex and Sam share ownership of the apartment.
  • Ben and Jerry’s ice cream recipe: The ice cream recipe is owned by Ben and Jerry.
  • Julia and Marcus’s business: indicates that the business is co-owned by Julia and Marcus.
  • mum and Dad’s car: suggests that the car is jointly owned by the parents.

Individual possession

When two or more people own something separately, each person is made possessive, to indicate clear individual ownership. This means adding an apostrophe followed by an “s” to the end of each person. This construction makes a clear separation from joint possession, clarifying that each person owns a separate item or items, rather than sharing ownership of a single item. The following examples outline this concept.

Examples

  • Alex’s and Chris’s research papers received top marks: implies different research papers.
  • Smith’s and Prof. Johnson’s lectures are at the same time: implies different lectures.
  • Jenna’s and Ryan’s gardens are flourishing this spring: indicates different gardens.
  • Parker’s and Mr. Lee’s offices are on different floors: indicates different offices.

Singular and plural nouns

As previously outlined, nouns can be categorized into singular and plural nouns, indicating one or more of an entity respectively. While in the singular form, it refers to one single entity, whether it’s a person, place, thing, or concept, denoting the name of one specific object or set of objects grouped as a single entity, in the plural form, it represents more than one entity, typically created by adding an “-s” or “-es” to the end of the singular word. The base form of a noun is typically singular, representing a single entity like a person, place, object, or idea. Here are a few examples of singular nouns.

Examples

  • Person: Doctor, woman, teacher
  • Place: City, park, restaurant
  • Thing: Book, cup, phone
  • Idea: Happiness, justice, theory

Plural nouns, on the other hand, represent more than one entity, usually indicating a collection of people, places, things, or ideas. They are formed by altering the singular form of the noun according to specific rules and exceptions, which often involve adding and ending like “-s,” “-es,” or changing the word form entyrely in the case of irregular nouns. Understanding plural nouns is crucial for correct subject-verb agreement and for conveying quantity in the English language. The rules for forming plurals can be complex, especially with irregular nouns, but the examples should provide a clear outline.

Regular plural nouns

Regular plural nouns keep the same singular noun and add endings like “-s” or “-es” to form a plural form. The ending “-es” is typically added to words that end in “-s,” “-ss,” “-sh,” “-ch,” “-x,” or “-z.” Here are some examples.

Examples

Ending in “-s”:

  • Person: Doctors, lawyers, teachers, workers
  • Place: Buildings, gardens, parks, restaurants
  • Thing: Books, cars, cups, phones
  • Ideas: Concepts, feelings, graces, senses,

Ending in “-es”:

  • Person: Bosses, stewardesses, princesses, witches
  • Place: Beaches, busses, churches, classes
  • Thing: Boxes, branches, glasses, watches
  • Ideas: Analyzes, crises, hypotheses, wishes

For nouns ending in a consonant followed by a “-y,” the “y” is replaced with the ending “-ies,” when the noun is pluralized. The following examples give a clear illustration.

Examples

  • City => cities
  • Puppy => puppies
  • Theory => theories

When singular nouns end in “-o,” it can get a bit tricky. Sometimes you add “-oes” and sometimes just “-s” to the end of the word.

Examples

Adding “-oes”:

  • Echo => echoes
  • Hero => heroes
  • Potato => potatoes

Adding “-s”:

  • Halo => Halos
  • Logo => logos
  • Photo => photos

Irregular plural nouns

Irregular plural nouns in English do not follow the standard rules of simply adding “-s” or “-es” at the end of the word to form the plural. Instead, they undergo consonant or vowel changes, or a complete change in the word construct. Some of the irregular plurals originate from old English, Germanic, or other languages altogether. In the below, you can find a list of irregular plural nouns, along with their singular forms.

Examples

Singular Plural
Child Children
Datum Data
Fish Fish
Fungus Fungi
Mouse Mice
Ox Oxen
Person People
Tooth Teeth
Woman Woman

Plurals formed by changing letters

A unique category of irregular nouns in English is plurals that are formed by changing vowels or letters in the singular word. This showcases the language’s complexity and historical depth. These changes often involve altering the internal vowels of the singular form to create the plural form, a remnant of older linguistic patterns found in English and other Germanic languages. The following table shows some notable examples.

Examples

Singular Plural
Foot Feet
Goose Geese
Louse Lice
Man Men
Mouse Mice
Tooth Teeth
Woman Women

Unchanged plural nouns

When the singular and plural forms of a noun are identical, we speak of unchanged plural nouns. This unique characteristic often applies to measurements, animals, and other nouns where the context clarifies the quantity rather than the form of the word. The following table shows a few of these unchanged plural nouns.

Examples

Singular Plural
An aircraft is flying overhead. Several aircraft are flying overhead.
A bison stands in the field. Several bison stand in the field.
The cod is a popular fish for cooking. The cod in this area are overfished.
The y have a headquarters here. They have headquarters here.
A quail has a distinctive call. The quail are nesting.
This series is popular. These series are popular.
The sheep is grazing. The sheep are grazing.
This species is endangered. Several species are endangered.

Plural nouns derived from other languages

Nouns that are derived from Latin or Greek origins, where the singular forms end in “-um” or “-on” (Latin) and “-on” or “-a” (Greek), often retained their traditional plural forms when they were adopted into the English language. Thus, they belong to irregular plural nouns. The following examples illustrate the transformation from singular to plural where the ending changes to “-a,” “-i,” or “-ae,” reflecting their etymological roots.

Examples

Singular Plural
Alumnae Alumna
Bacterium Bacteria
Criterion Criteria
Datum Data
Medium Media
Cactus Cacti
Fungus Fungi
Nucleus Nuclei
Radius Radii
Syllabus Syllabi
Antenna Antennae
Formula Formulae
Larva Larvae
Nebula Nebulae
Vertebra Vertebrae

In the examples, it is notable that while “data” and “media” are often treated as plural nouns, in contemporary usage, they can also be used as collective nouns with a singular verb form, especially in informal contexts. Many of them can also be pluralized with “-s” or “-es” at the end such as “cactuses,” “formulas,” and “antennas.”

Download the document for an extensive list of irregular plural nouns.

List of irregular nouns in their plural form
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Rules for forming plurals

Understanding the difference between singular and plural nouns, as well as the rules and exceptions for forming plurals, plays a key role in English grammar. The list below gives an overview of all the rules, exceptions, and irregularities that need to be considered when forming plural nouns.

  1. Regular plurals: Add “-s” to most regular singular nouns, e.g., cats.
  2. Ending in “-ch,” “-x,” “-s,” “-sh,” or “-z”: Add “-es,” e.g., boxes.
  3. Ending in “-y”: Replace “-y” with “-ies,” e.g., cities.
  4. Ending in “-o”: Depending on the word, add “-oes” or “-s,” e.g., potatoes, photos.
  5. Irregular plurals: Don’t follow standard rules, e.g., children, feet, sheep, data.

Note:

  • Some nouns have identical singular and plural forms, e.g., quail, series, species.
  • Some nouns change entyrely, e.g., mice, oxen, women.
  • Noncountable nouns do not have plurals, e.g., Information, rice, water.

Attributive nouns

Attributive nouns, also called noun adjuncts or attributive genitives, modify other nouns, similar to the way adjectives do. Essentially, an attributive noun acts as an adjective to describe another noun, providing additional information about it or specifying a particular aspect. This is a common construct in the English language and enables concise expression of complex ideas. They offer a flexible way to compound words and noun phrases and typically do not take on possessive or plural forms, and always precede the noun they modify. The following shows relevant examples for better comprehension.

Examples

  1. Book cover: “book” modifying “cover,” indicating the type of cover.
  2. Chicken soup: “chicken” is the attributive noun, describing the type of soup.
  3. Computer science: “computer” specifies the branch of science.
  4. Garden party: “garden” modifying “party,” describing where the party is held.
  5. Water bottle: “water” is the attributive noun, specifying what the bottle is for.

Nominalization

Nominalization is the process of converting words from other parts of speech, such as verbs or adjectives, into nouns. This linguistic transformation allows for the expression of complex ideas, actions, or qualities as concrete or abstract entities. Nominalization is a common feature across languages and plays a crucial role in making language more versatile and nuanced. It can involve various word types and sometimes involves adding suffixes or making other alterations to the original word.

Verb nouns

Verb nouns refer to nouns that are derived from verbs, showcasing the process known as nominalization. Through this conversion, actions are transformed into things or concepts. They often capture the idea of the action or outcomes of the action. Here are a few examples.

Examples

  • To create => the creation
  • To decide => the decision
  • To discover => the discovery

Adjective nouns

Adjective nouns, also called nominal adjectives or substantivized adjectives, function as nouns within sentences. This occurs when an adjective, describing a characteristic, quality, or quantity, is used to illustrate a collection of people, places, things, or concepts. The context in which they are used helps to understand their nominal function.

Examples

  • Brave => the brave
  • Elder => the elder
  • Homeless => the homeless

FAQs

The various types of nouns are:

  • Abstract nouns
  • Collective nouns
  • Common nouns
  • Concrete nouns
  • Countable nouns
  • Proper nouns
  • Uncountable nouns

Nouns are a part of speech that make up cornerstones of sentences. They refer to things, people, concepts, emotions, and places – Nearly any thing that you can think of defines a noun.

Examples of nouns are:

  • Common noun: Father
  • Proper noun: New York
  • Singular noun: Pencil
  • Plural noun: Pencils
  • Compound noun: Ice cream
  • Collective noun: Family
  • Concrete noun: Table
  • Abstract: Happiness
  • Countable noun: Table
  • Uncountable noun: Research

Regular nouns are singular words that don’t essentially change when pluralized, but you simply add “-s” or “-es” to the end of the word. On the contrary, irregular nouns can change their entyre structure or have different endings than “-s” or “-es” in their plural form.

In sentences, the function of nouns can be as subjects, direct objects, indirect objects, subject complements, object complements, appositives, and modifiers.