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Nouns in English

Nouns in English - types, usage, formation


Index : Types of noun Formation of nouns
Plurals of nouns

What is a noun ? 

noun is a lexical word that represents an entity (person, creature, object), a substance, a process (action, evolution) or an abstraction (idea, concept).
   Nouns representing named person/s  entity, or place are called called proper nouns and are Capitalised. Other nouns are known as or common nouns

1. The classification of  nouns


Every noun can be classified in three different ways.
Proper or common ?   Concrete or abstract ?    Count or non-count?

  •    Nouns representing a named person  entity, or place are called called proper nou ns and are Capitalised. We also call them "names".  Examples: Shakespeare, London, India, Mount Everest, the Titanic, the Olympics, Catholicism, Islam, Google, Gandalf.  They are usually concrete and uncountable. Other nouns are known as or common nouns
  •    Common nouns that denote entities or substances (even invisible or intangible substances such as air) are called concrete nouns; nouns denoting abstractions or processes are called  abstract nouns.
  •    Common nouns designating items or abstractions that can be counted are known as count nouns (or countable nouns), and have both singular and plural forms.  Nouns designating generalisations or substances are called non-count nouns (or uncountable nouns) and are normally only used in the singular..
      Almost all non-count nouns can also be used as count nouns in certain circumstances, though most often only in the singular. The distinction between count and non-count nouns is fundamental, as they are not used in the same way. For more on this see count and non-count nouns
Common nouns Count Non-count
Concrete car, cat, ball, man, table, engine, class,  road,  aeroplane, water, potassium,  cement, air, oil, whisky, concrete 
Abstract idea, noun, attitude, name, song, thought, opinion, victory, quantity, length, kilometre patience, suspense, life, philosophy, music, , work, economics

Examples of non-count nouns being used as count  nouns in defined circumstances: 
   Whisky is an alcoholic drink.  This pub has fifteen different whiskies.
   Work can be interesting, but this work I'm doing is very boring.
   Love is all you need; and John had three loves, his wife, his kids and his car.
   I love music, but I particularly love the music of Mozart.
While the plural forms whiskies, works and loves are all possible,  such plural forms are uncommon. Generally speaking, non-count abstract nouns, for example suspense, patience or music, cannot be used in the plural.

Nouns and gender :  

In English, nouns can either be masculine (referring to men or more generally to male creatures), feminine (referring to women, or more generally to female creatures), or neutral (referring to objects, substances, processes or abstractions.)
  Contrary to some other European languages, the gender of a noun is not reflected in the article or adjective that is linked to it.

   Thus one says :  a man, a lady, a cat, a decision, this man, this lady

  On the other hand, the gender of a noun is reflected in the third person singular in personal pronouns and in possessive pronouns and adjectives relating to it. Thus
  • I saw the boy > becomes I saw him.
  • I saw the girl > becomes I saw her.
  • I saw the cat > becomes I saw it.
  • This is Mark's computer > becomes This is his computer
  • This is Mary's computer > becomes This is her computer.

For more details see Articles ,  Pronouns, and  Possessives

2. The formation of nouns

Many nouns represent primary entities; these are  root nouns such as :
  • Apple, Boot, Child, Dog, Egg, Finger, Giraffe, Hand, Island......
There are  no rules that govern the form of a root noun..

Other nouns, known as derived nouns, are formed from verbs, adjectives or from other nouns.
  The formation of derived nouns in English is very easy . This is one of the strengths of the English language !
   Most frequently, derived nouns are formed from a root  (not necessarily another existing word, but a "lexeme", a unit of lexical meaning) to which is added an ending.  Most endings imply a specific or general meaning..
Here are the most common endings used to form nouns in English.:
  • -ion , -ence, -ness, -ment, -ity,  -ics,  -ing,  
Examples: 
  1.    Action, nation, inflation, discussion - with -ion
  2.    Patience, maintenance, conscience - with (i)ence or -(i)ance
  3.    Madness, emptiness, loneliness, greatness - with -ness
  4.    Parliament, instrument, apartment, containment, - with -ment
  5.    Community, commodity, validity, - with -ity
  6.    Physics, economics, analytics, statistics, logistics - with -ics
  7.    Farming, marketing, beginning, ending,  with -ing

Nouns with irregular plurals


Pluralizing nouns in English is very simple.  With just a few exceptions, the plural of all English nouns is formed by adding the letter "s". 

Exceptions:

Nouns in s, sh or z,
When the singular of an English noun ends in s, sh or z, the plural is normally formed by adding -es
Examples: Bus > buses,  Bush > bushes,  Buzz > buzzes,
With some words ending in s, the plural and singular are identical
Examples: A series > two series, a means > two means >  a species > two species,  

Nouns ending in -f.  
With some (but not all) nouns ending in a single -f , the plural is formed by replacing the final -f by -ves.
Examples: Half >halves,  Hoof > hooves, thief > thieves but  Roof > roofs, belief > beliefs
The same goes for words ending in -fe (or -ef).
Examples: Knife >knives,  Life > lives, thief > thieves

Words ending in -is
With words like analysis, hypothesis, the plural is formed by replacing the final -is by -es, Examples : analysis > analyses, hypothesis > hypotheses, crisis > crises etc.

Some words derived directly or supposedly from Latin or Greek
In some cases, the original Latin or Greek ending is used
Cactus > cacti, Medium > media, nucleus > nuclei, criterion > criteria, stimulus > stimuli  etc.

A few irregular nouns
A very small number of common English nouns have irregular plurals:
Man > men ,  Woman > women , Child > children,  Mouse > mice,  Foot > feet,  Tooth > teeth ...

Animals and fish
For some animals, some birds, and a lot of fish (including the word fish), the plural is - or may be -  the same as the singular.
A bison > two bison,  a deer > two deer(s), a fish > two fish, a perch > two perch, a salmon > two salmon, a sheep > two sheep,  a grouse > two grouse etc.
  Most other animals and birds have regular plurals : two horses, two cats, two dogs, two pigs, two pigeons, two eagles etc.

Nouns of nationality in the plural

Nouns of nationality   ending in -sh  -ch -ese or -ss do not take any plural ending; they are invariable. Other nouns of nationality obey the general rules for plurals.
Examples : The English, the Scottish, the Spanish, the French, the Dutch, the Swiss, the Portuguese, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Lebanese....
But : The Americans, the Australians, the Finns, the Swedes, the Russians, the Poles, the Brazilians, the Serbs, the Greeks, the Moroccans, the Afghans, the Pakistanis, etc.

Collective nouns: singular or plural ?  

Should one say The committee is  or The committee are   ?  See  Collective nouns




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