The Roles of Nouns in English Grammar

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A Basic Definition

A noun is a word that is used to name anything and everything that exists – a person, a place, a thing, a feeling, a concept, a theory.


“Sam is a student of Physics these days at the Panjab University at Chandigarh in India and it is time for the University to break for Christmas.

All the italicized words in the example passage are nouns.

Kinds of Nouns

Depending on what the noun is referring to a specific person, anything in general, something abstract or a group of things; we have different types of nouns. The nouns are of the following types:

Proper Nouns:

A proper noun refers to something particular. These are usually capitalized. As in the above example, we are talking of a particular person – Ramesh. Ramesh is a proper noun.

Common Nouns:

A noun that is used in general is known as a common noun. It is a name common to all. In the example paragraph, the word student is a common noun. Any person who studies is known as a student.

Abstract Nouns:

These nouns denote things that we cannot touch, which are not tangible. Names of subjects are also considered abstract nouns. In the above example, Physics is an abstract noun.

Collective Nouns:

Collective Noun is the name given to a collection of persons or things. When the group is referred to as one, it is known as a collective noun. Example: I have lost my bunch of keys.

Material Nouns:

Material Nouns refer to the constituent of a common noun. For example, in the sentence “The plastic chair is broken.” The word plastic is a material noun. Material Nouns can be placed in the following groups:

  • Metals: gold, silver, copper, etc.
  • Products in bulk: tea, sugar, flour, milk, etc.
  • Geological Bodies: sand, rocks etc.
  • Natural Phenomena: rain, dew, etc.
  • Other Manufactured items: cloth, soap, plastic, wood, etc.

Abstract Nouns and Vocabulary

Understanding and learning formation of Abstract Nouns helps ESL students to enrich vocabulary and play with words in a smatter manner.

Abstract Nouns and Vocabulary

Abstract nouns can be formed by using the right noun suffix with adjectives, verbs or common nouns. Examples:

Dark (adjective) + ness (noun suffix) = Darkness (abstract noun)

Long (adjective) + evity (noun suffix) = Longevity (abstract noun)

Observe (verb) + ation (noun suffix) = Observation (abstract noun)

Punish (verb) + ment (noun suffix) = Punishment (abstract noun)

King (common noun) + ship (noun suffix) = Kingship (abstract noun)

Mother (common noun) + hood (noun suffix) = Motherhood.

Classroom Activities:

A number of classroom activities revolving around nouns can be given to the students. Quizzes and worksheets are necessary for learning grammar. Some suggestions for assignments are:

  • Worksheets requiring the students to identify nouns and types of nouns can be distributed and discussed.
  • Assignments asking the students to interchange the word from noun to verb, noun to adjective, common nouns to abstract nouns and vice versa can be distributed and discussed.
  • Another interesting activity that can be given is to recognize various nouns present in a classroom.
  • Supply the students a list of suffixes and randomly chosen noun words. Ask the class to form abstract nouns of the given nouns using the suffixes supplied. The class comes across many interesting and new words.

An exercise is available for download to practice identifying types of nouns.

Reference: High School English Grammar and Composition – Wren & Martin