Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video Nouns, part of Grammar Foundations.
The noun is probably the easiest part of speech to identify and to use. Nouns name a person, place, thing, or idea. Nouns answer the question of who or what the sentence is about, and may even answer where and when. The subject of the sentence is likely to be a noun— the basic sentence structure is explained in depth in another lesson— answering the question who the sentence is about. Here's an example: The employees like the new exercise facilities. In this example, “employees” and “facilities” are the nouns. “Employees” name a person, in this case a group of people, and answers the question “who like the facilities?” So, it is the sentence subject. “Facilities” is a noun because it names a place and answers the question, “employees like what?” Employees and facilities are also examples of concrete nouns. We can touch, see, hear, taste, or smell things that are concrete. Now, look at this sentence: Compassion is necessary for empathy. Who and what is the sentence about? Compassion. So, it's a noun and the subject of the sentence. “Empathy” is a thing, so it too is a noun, but these are abstract nouns. We can't touch, see, hear, taste, or smell compassion or empathy. We might be able to see a compassionate act, but not compassion itself. Whether concrete or abstract, employees, facilities, compassion, and empathy are referred to as common nouns, because they are nonspecific or generic. On the other hand, the name of a specific person, place, thing, or idea is a proper noun. The one main difference is that because they are specific, they're capitalized. Mike and Faye like to meet at Scott's Gym. First, Mike, Faye, and Scott's Gym are nouns. Mike and Faye answer the question of who like to meet and the question of who or what the sentence is about, so are the subjects of the sentence, and Scott's Gym answers the question where. Additionally, those are examples of proper nouns because they refer to a specific place and to two specific people, so they're capitalized. Here's another example: Hotel Ryal is in South Bend, Indiana. A specific hotel, a specific city and state. So, those proper nouns also need to be capitalized. Overall, to capitalize or not is an easy decision; however, a couple of situations for which the decision may not be as easy need to be mentioned. Should M-O-M be capitalized or begin with a lower case M? What about E-A-S-T? The correct answer for both of those is it depends. It depends on how each word is used. Tell Mom that I will be home late. In that example, the word “Mom” replaces a name, tell Erin or tell Phyllis. Now look at this example. Tell my mom that I will be home late. Here the word “mom” is considered a common noun and should not be capitalized. Here's a way to check. You wouldn't say, “Tell my Erin or my Phyllis.” That test will help you decide if the word should be capitalized. This is also true for other family relationship words, such as dad and sister. Now, what about the locations? If east, south, north, and west are used as directions, then they are not capitalized. Drive east on Main Street, lower case E is correct. However, if a specific location is being referred to, then it should be capitalized, as in this example: I live in the East. Another grammar term related to nouns is collective nouns, a noun that refers to a group. The grammar issue is understanding if that noun is singular or plural. The audience expressed its or their agreement with prolonged applause. Audience is an example of a noun answering the question who, but it's a collective noun. Do you look at “audience” as one group, applauding together? Probably. So, it's considered singular, which means it needs a singular reference. Audience its, rather than audience their. Agreement of number is discussed in another lesson. The audience expressed its agreement with prolonged applause. What about this example? After the adjournment, the audience went its or their separate ways. This time you probably visualize individual people going different directions, so audience is still a collective noun, but it's now plural, which requires a plural reference, audience their. After the adjournment, the audience went their separate ways. Collective nouns: a group acting as one or a group composed of individuals, each doing something different. If that sounds awkward, you could revise it to say “the audience members.” Now it is definitely plural. So, to summarize, nouns identify who, what, and even occasionally when and where, can be concrete or abstract, common or proper, and collective. The subject of a sentence is frequently a noun. They may also be direct or indirect objects, objects of prepositions, and subjective complements. Each of these uses is discussed in another segment of the course.
- Why does grammar matter?
- Diagramming sentences
- Understanding pronouns
- Working with adjectives and adverbs
- Making sentences parallel
- Deciding when to use active and passive voice
- Using commas correctly
- Practicing grammar rules