Nouns can be classified according to what they refer to.
- Nouns that are really names are called proper nouns. Proper nouns usually refer to a particular named person or thing.
- the names of specific people.
|Anna Dickinson||John Lennon|
|Lucy White||Mrs Merton|
|Covent Garden||Balcombe Road|
- days of the week, months, and annual Church festivals.
- patented goods and trade names.
- newspaper and magazine titles.
|The New Scientist||Time Out|
- shop, cinema and theatre names, buildings.
|The Odeon||New Look|
|The Royal Mews||Nationwide|
- titles (the polite or professional labels that we give to people).
A person’s title is usually placed before his or her name. Proper nouns and titles are always written with an initial capital letter.
|Doctor Johnson||Sir George Hardie|
|Professor James ||President Hollande|
- All the other nouns that refer to things or species are called common nouns.
Common nouns can be divided into the following groups, according to their meaning:Abstract nouns. These refer to intangible items.
- I put the tennis balls in that basket there.
- My brother and sister visited my mother.
- The anger that John felt was overwhelming.
Concrete nouns. These refer to tangible items.
A concrete noun may refer to a living thing (animate nouns) or a physical object (inanimate nouns).Collective nouns. These refer to collections of people or animals.
Nouns may also be classified according to the words with which they are used, that is:
- a herd of cows
- a swarm of bees
This gives us a useful distinction between countable nouns and uncountable nouns.Countable nouns refer to things that we can count: one cat, two cats, seventeen cats,and so on. They have singular and plural forms, which are shown by the spelling. They must be used with a determiner if they are singular.
- whether or not the noun gives us information about singular and plural number.
- the other words that can be used in the same noun phrase.
Uncountable nouns refer to:
- Dogs ran wild in the streets.
- The dog is loose again.
- Fetch a chair for Maddy, will you?
- We’ve bought six new chairs.
- things that are not normally thought of as countable.
- John asked me for some advice.
- Anna gave us some more information about her work.
- Homework occupied much of Sonia’s evening.
- qualities or abstract ideas.
Uncountable nouns do not usually have a plural form. They are followed by a singular verb. They are not normally used with the indefinite article. (You cannot talk about ‘an advice’ or ‘a money’.) When it is necessary to think of an item as countable it has to be used with a partitive noun. See Types of noun.
- Our knowledge of outer space is increasing daily.
- Trevor gave evidence at the trial.
- Anger is a normal human emotion.
Some examples of the commonest uncountable nouns are: advice, anger, beauty, behaviour, conduct, despair, evidence, furniture, happiness, homework, information, safety, knowledge, leisure, money, news, progress, research.
- He bought seven sheets of cardboard.
- Let me give you a piece of advice.
- Verbal nouns (Verbal nouns), which are formed from the present participle of verbs, can also be used as uncountable nouns.
- Why don’t you try walking to work?
- Brian was told to stop smoking.
- The ringing in his ears continued.
Note that nouns that are uncountable in English may be countable in other languages. See Types of noun.
Mass nounsThese are nouns that refer to a substance that can be divided or measured but not counted, e.g. sugar, water. They do not usually have an indefinite article in front.
Mass nouns only take a plural in special cases. They can be counted when they refer to:
- Meat is usually more expensive than cheese.
- Sugar is quite cheap.
- a particular type or types of the substance.
- There was a buffet of bread and rolls, cheese, cold meats and tea or coffee.
- Ros brought out a tempting selection of French cheeses.
- The principal sugars are glucose, sucrose, and fructose.
- a serving of the substance.
- Two teas, please.
- He went up to the bar and ordered two lagers.
- Mass nouns are often used together with a partitive noun.
- There are only two pieces of furniture in the room.
- There are three portions of meat in this special pack.
- Five pints of lager, please.
Partitive nounsPartitive nouns are commonly followed by of. They are used when we need to talk about a part of a mass noun or when we need to count the quantity of something that is referred to by an uncountable noun or a mass noun, especially when it is necessary to talk about:
- measurements and quantities with mass nouns.
|three pieces of toast||a slice of cheese|
|a bit of fluff||two spoonfuls of sugar|
- individual items with uncountable nouns.
- Two pieces of furniture needed major repairs.
- We needed several lengths of string.
- a collection of countable nouns.
- The road was blocked by a flock of sheep.
- He has a small herd of dairy cows.
- There was a crowd of football supporters on the bus.
- A couple of cats were fighting.
Many collective nouns can be used as partitive nouns. See Types of noun. PreviousNext
Nouns that have both countable and uncountable usesMost nouns are either countable nouns or uncountable nouns, as explained on Types of noun. Some nouns, however, behave like countable nouns in some sentences and uncountable nouns in other sentences. They usually have different meanings depending on how they are used. For example time, light, history, space, laugh, and grocery have more than one meaning.
Some nouns that are countable nouns in other languages are used only as uncountable nouns in English, e.g. information, advice.
- Time passed slowly.
- She did it four times.
- Light travels faster than sound.
- The lights in this room are too bright.
- The rocket was launched into space.
- There are plenty of empty spaces on the shelves.
Some nouns are used only in the plural form, even when we are talking about one item, e.g. trousers, clothes, jeans. We can use a partitive noun with of when referring to a single item.
- He received all the necessary information.
- I don’t need your help.
- These trousers need cleaning.
- Put the scissors back when you have finished with them.
- I need a pair of pliers.
- Liz gathered up a bundle of clothes.