A noun () is a word that generally functions as the name of a specific object or set of objects, such as living creatures, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas.Example nouns for: * Living creatures (including people, alive, dead or imaginary): ''mushrooms, dogs,
Afro-Caribbean Afro-Caribbean people or African Caribbean are Caribbean people who trace their full or partial ancestry to Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of the modern African-Caribbeans descend from Africans taken as slaves to colonial Caribbean via the ...
s, rosebushes, Nelson Mandela, bacteria, Klingons'', etc. * Physical objects: ''hammers, pencils, Earth, guitars, atoms, stones, boots, shadows'', etc. * Places: ''closets, temples, rivers, Antarctica, houses, Grand Canyon, utopia'', etc. * Actions: ''swimming, exercises, diffusions, explosions, flight, electrification, embezzlement'', etc. * Qualities: ''colors, lengths, deafness, weights, roundness, symmetry, warp speed,'' etc. * Mental or physical states of existence: ''jealousy, sleep, heat, joy, stomachache, confusion, mind meld,'' etc.
Lexical categories ( parts of speech) are defined in terms of the ways in which their members combine with other kinds of expressions. The
syntactic In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure (constituency ...
rules for nouns differ between
language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its grammar and the free components are its vocabulary. Languages are the primary means by which humans communicate, and may be conveyed through a variety of ...
s. In English, nouns are those words which can occur with articles and attributive adjectives and can function as the head of a noun phrase. "As far as we know, every language makes a grammatical distinction that looks like a noun verb distinction."


Word classes (parts of speech) were described by
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had diffused there from the northwest in the la ...
grammarians from at least the 5th century BC. In
Yāska Yāska was an ancient Indian grammarian and linguist st. 7th–5th century BCE(disputed)">disputed.html" ;"title="st. 7th–5th century BCE(disputed">st. 7th–5th century BCE(disputed) Preceding Pāṇini st. 7th–4th century BCE(Controve ...
's ''Nirukta'', the noun (''nāma'') is one of the four main categories of words defined.Bimal Krishna Matilal, ''The word and the world: India's contribution to the study of language'', 1990 (Chapter 3) The Ancient Greek equivalent was ''ónoma'' (ὄνομα), referred to by Plato in the Cratylus (dialogue), ''Cratylus'' dialog, and later listed as one of the eight parts of speech in '' The Art of Grammar'', attributed to
Dionysius Thrax Dionysius Thrax ( grc-gre, Διονύσιος ὁ Θρᾷξ ''Dionýsios ho Thrâix'', 170–90 BC) was a Greek grammarian and a pupil of Aristarchus of Samothrace. He was long considered to be the author of the earliest grammatical text on the Gr ...
(2nd century BC). The term used in Latin grammar was ''nōmen''. All of these terms for "noun" were also words meaning "name". The English word ''noun'' is derived from the Latin term, through the Anglo-Norman ''noun''. The word classes were defined partly by the grammatical forms that they take. In Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, for example, nouns are categorized by gender and inflected for case and
number A number is a mathematical object used to count, measure, and label. The original examples are the natural numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and so forth. Numbers can be represented in language with number words. More universally, individual numbers c ...
. Because adjectives share these three grammatical categories, adjectives are placed in the same class as nouns. Similarly, the Latin ''nōmen'' includes both nouns (substantives) and adjectives, as originally did the English word ''noun'', the two types being distinguished as ''nouns substantive'' and ''nouns adjective'' (or ''substantive nouns'' and ''adjective nouns'', or short ''substantives'' and ''adjectives''). (The word ''
nominal Nominal may refer to: Linguistics and grammar * Nominal (linguistics), one of the parts of speech * Nominal, the adjectival form of " noun", as in "nominal agreement" (= "noun agreement") * Nominal sentence, a sentence without a finite verb * N ...
'' is now sometimes used to denote a class that includes both nouns and adjectives.) Many European languages use a
cognate In historical linguistics, cognates or lexical cognates are sets of words in different languages that have been inherited in direct descent from an etymological ancestor in a common parent language. Because language change can have radical ...
of the word ''substantive'' as the basic term for ''noun'' (for example, Spanish ''sustantivo'', "noun"). Nouns in the dictionaries of such languages are demarked by the abbreviation ''s.'' or ''sb.'' instead of ''n.'', which may be used for proper nouns or neuter nouns instead. In English, some modern authors use the word ''substantive'' to refer to a class that includes both nouns (single words) and noun phrases (multiword units, also called noun equivalents). It can also be used as a counterpart to ''attributive'' when distinguishing between a noun being used as the head (main word) of a noun phrase and a noun being used as a noun adjunct. For example, the noun ''knee'' can be said to be used substantively in ''my knee hurts'', but attributively in ''the patient needed knee replacement''.


* The ''cat'' sat on the ''chair''. * Please hand in your ''assignments'' by the ''end'' of the ''week''. * ''Cleanliness'' is next to ''godliness''. * ''Plato'' was an influential ''philosopher'' in ancient ''Greece''. * Revel the ''night'', rob, murder, and commit/The oldest ''sins'' the newest ''kind'' of ''ways''? Henry IV Part 2, act 4 scene 5. A noun can co-occur with an article or an
attributive adjective In linguistics, an adjective (abbreviated ) is a word that generally modifies a noun or noun phrase or describes its referent. Its semantic role is to change information given by the noun. Traditionally, adjectives were considered one of the m ...
. Verbs and adjectives cannot. In the following, an asterisk (*) in front of an example means that this example is ungrammatical. * ''the name'' (''name'' is a noun: can co-occur with a definite article ''the'') * ''*the baptise'' (''baptise'' is a verb: cannot co-occur with a definite article) * ''constant circulation'' (''circulation'' is a noun: can co-occur with the attributive adjective ''constant'') * ''*constant circulate'' (''circulate'' is a verb: cannot co-occur with the attributive adjective ''constant'') * ''a fright'' (''fright'' is a noun: can co-occur with the indefinite article ''a'') * ''*an afraid'' (''afraid'' is an adjective: cannot co-occur with the article ''a'') * ''terrible fright'' (the noun ''fright'' can co-occur with the adjective ''terrible'') * ''*terrible afraid'' (the adjective ''afraid'' cannot co-occur with the adjective ''terrible'')


Nouns have sometimes been defined in terms of the grammatical categories to which they are subject (classed by gender, inflected for case and number). Such definitions tend to be language-specific, since nouns do not have the same categories in all languages. Nouns are frequently defined, particularly in informal contexts, in terms of their semantic properties (their meanings). Nouns are described as words that refer to a ''person'', ''place'', ''thing'', ''event'', ''substance'', ''quality'', ''quantity'', etc. However this type of definition has been criticized by contemporary linguists as being uninformative. There are several instances of English-language nouns which do not have any reference: ''drought'', ''enjoyment'', ''finesse'', ''behalf'' (as found in ''on behalf of''), ''dint'' (''in dint of''), and ''sake'' (''for the sake of''). Moreover, there may be a relationship similar to reference in the case of other parts of speech: the verbs ''to rain'' or ''to mother''; many adjectives, like ''red''; and there is little difference between the adverb ''gleefully'' and the noun-based phrase ''with glee''.Nouns occur in idioms with no meaning outside the idiom: ''rock and roll'' does not describe two different things named by ''rock'' and by ''roll''; someone who falls for something ''lock, stock and barrel'' does not fall for something ''lock'', for ''stock'', and for ''barrel''; a trick using ''smoke and mirrors'' does not separate into the effect of ''smoke'' and each ''mirror''. See hendiadys and hendiatris. Linguists often prefer to define nouns (and other lexical categories) in terms of their formal properties. These include morphological information, such as what prefixes or suffixes they take, and also their
syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure ( constituenc ...
 – how they combine with other words and expressions of particular types. Such definitions may nonetheless still be language-specific since syntax as well as morphology varies between languages. For example, in English, it might be noted that nouns are words that can co-occur with definite articles (as stated at the start of this article), but this would not apply in Russian, which has no definite articles. A functional approach defines a noun as a word that can be the head of a nominal phrase, i.e. a phrase with referential function, without needing to go through morphological transformation.


Nouns can have a number of different properties and are often subcategorized based on various of these criteria, depending on their occurrence in a language.


In some languages, genders are assigned to nouns, such as masculine, feminine and neuter. The gender of a noun (as well as its number and case, where applicable) will often entail agreement in words that modify or are related to it. For example, in French, the singular form of the definite article is ''le'' for masculine nouns and ''la'' for feminine; adjectives and certain verb forms also change (with the addition of for feminine). Grammatical gender often correlates with the form of the noun and the inflection pattern it follows; for example, in both Italian and Russian most nouns ending are feminine. Gender can also correlate with the sex of the noun's referent, particularly in the case of nouns denoting people (and sometimes animals). Nouns arguably do not have gender in Modern English, although many of them denote people or animals of a specific sex (or ''social gender''), and pronouns that refer to nouns must take the appropriate gender for that noun. (The ''girl'' lost ''her'' spectacles.)

Proper and common nouns

A ''proper noun'' or ''proper name'' is a noun representing unique entities (such as ''India'', ''
Pegasus Pegasus ( grc-gre, Πήγασος, Pḗgasos; la, Pegasus, Pegasos) is one of the best known creatures in Greek mythology. He is a winged divine stallion usually depicted as pure white in color. He was sired by Poseidon, in his role as ho ...
'', '' Jupiter'', '' Confucius'', or '' Pequod''), as distinguished from ''common nouns'', which describe a class of entities (such as ''country'', ''animal'', ''planet'', ''person'' or ''ship'').

Countable nouns and mass nouns

''Count nouns'' or ''countable nouns'' are common nouns that can take a
plural The plural (sometimes abbreviated pl., pl, or ), in many languages, is one of the values of the grammatical category of number. The plural of a noun typically denotes a quantity greater than the default quantity represented by that noun. This ...
, can combine with numerals or counting quantifiers (e.g., ''one'', ''two'', ''several'', ''every'', ''most''), and can take an indefinite article such as ''a'' or ''an'' (in languages which have such articles). Examples of count nouns are ''chair'', ''nose'', and ''occasion''. ''Mass nouns'' or ''uncountable'' (or ''non-count'') ''nouns'' differ from count nouns in precisely that respect: they cannot take plurals or combine with number words or the above type of quantifiers. For example, it is not possible to refer to ''a furniture'' or ''three furnitures''. This is true even though the pieces of furniture comprising ''furniture'' could be counted. Thus the distinction between mass and count nouns should not be made in terms of what sorts of things the nouns refer to, but rather in terms of how the nouns ''present'' these entities. Many nouns have both countable and uncountable uses; for example, ''soda'' is countable in "give me three sodas", but uncountable in "he likes soda".

Collective nouns

''Collective nouns'' are nouns that – even when they are inflected for the singular – refer to ''groups'' consisting of more than one individual or entity. Examples include ''committee'', ''government'', and ''police''. In English these nouns may be followed by a singular or a plural verb and referred to by a singular or plural pronoun, the singular being generally preferred when referring to the body as a unit and the plural often being preferred, especially in British English, when emphasizing the individual members. Examples of acceptable and unacceptable use given by Gowers in ''Plain Words'' include:

Concrete nouns and abstract nouns

''Concrete nouns'' refer to physical entities that can, in principle at least ''(i.e. different schools of philosophy and sciences may question the assumption, but, for the most part, people agree to the existence of something. E.g. a rock, a tree, universe)'', be observed by at least one of the senses (for instance, ''chair'', ''apple'', ''Janet'' or ''atom''). ''Abstract nouns'', on the other hand, refer to
abstract object In metaphysics, the distinction between abstract and concrete refers to a divide between two types of entities. Many philosophers hold that this difference has fundamental metaphysical significance. Examples of concrete objects include plants, ...
s; that is, ideas or concepts (such as ''justice'' or ''hatred''). While this distinction is sometimes exclusive, some nouns have multiple senses, including both concrete and abstract ones: for example, the noun ''art'', which usually refers to a concept (e.g., ''Art is an important element of human culture.'') but which can refer to a specific artwork in certain contexts (e.g., ''I put my daughter's art up on the fridge.'') Some abstract nouns developed etymologically by figurative extension from literal roots. These include ''drawback'', ''fraction'', ''holdout'' and ''uptake''. Similarly, some nouns have both abstract and concrete senses, with the latter having developed by figurative extension from the former. These include ''view'', ''filter'', ''structure'' and ''key''. In English, many abstract nouns are formed by adding a suffix (''-ness'', ''-ity'', ''-ion'') to adjectives or verbs. Examples are ''happiness'' (from the adjective ''happy''), ''circulation'' (from the verb ''circulate'') and ''serenity'' (from the adjective ''serene'').

Alienable vs. inalienable nouns

Some languages, such as the Awa language spoken in Papua New Guinea, refer to nouns differently, depending on how ownership is being given for the given noun. This can be broken into two categories: alienable possession and inalienable possession. An alienably possessed noun is something that can exist independent of a possessor: for example 'tree' can be possessed ('Lucy's tree') but need not be ('the tree'), and likewise for 'shirt' ('Mike's shirt', 'that shirt') and 'roads' ('London's roads', 'those roads') . Inalienablly possessed nouns, on the other hand, refer to something that does not exist independently of a possessor; this includes kin terms such as 'father', body-part nouns such as 'shadow' or 'hair', and part-whole nouns such as 'top' and 'bottom'.

Noun phrases

A noun phrase is a phrase based on a noun, pronoun, or other noun-like words (nominal) optionally accompanied by modifiers such as determiners and adjectives. A noun phrase functions within a clause or sentence in a role such as that of subject, object, or
complement A complement is something that completes something else. Complement may refer specifically to: The arts * Complement (music), an interval that, when added to another, spans an octave ** Aggregate complementation, the separation of pitch-class ...
of a verb or preposition. For example, in the sentence "The black cat sat on a dear friend of mine", the noun phrase ''the black cat'' serves as the subject, and the noun phrase ''a dear friend of mine'' serves as the complement of the preposition ''on''.

Nouns in relation to other word classes


Nouns and noun phrases can typically be replaced by pronouns, such as ''he'', ''it'', ''which'', and ''those'', in order to avoid repetition or explicit identification, or for other reasons. For example, in the sentence ''Gareth thought that he was weird'', the word ''he'' is a pronoun standing in place of the person's name. The word ''one'' can replace parts of noun phrases, and it sometimes stands in for a noun. An example is given below: But ''one'' can also stand in for larger parts of a noun phrase. For example, in the following example, ''one'' can stand in for ''new car''.


Nominalization is a process whereby a word that belongs to another part of speech comes to be used as a noun. This can be a way to create new nouns, or to use other words in ways that resemble nouns. In French and Spanish, for example, adjectives frequently act as nouns referring to people who have the characteristics denoted by the adjective. This sometimes happens in English as well, as in the following examples:

See also

Description Description is the pattern of narrative development that aims to make vivid a place, object, character, or group. Description is one of four rhetorical modes (also known as ''modes of discourse''), along with exposition, argumentation, and nar ...
* Grammatical case * Phi features *
Punctuation Punctuation (or sometimes interpunction) is the use of spacing, conventional signs (called punctuation marks), and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and correct reading of written text, whether read silently or aloud. An ...
* Reference




* * *

Further reading

* Laycock, Henry (2005).
Mass nouns, Count nouns and Non-count nouns
, Draft version of entry in ''Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics'' Oxford: Elsevier. For definitions of nouns based on the concept of "identity criteria": * Geach, Peter. 1962. ''Reference and Generality.'' Cornell University Press. For more on identity criteria: * Gupta, Anil. 1980, ''The logic of common nouns.'' New Haven and London: Yale University Press. For the concept that nouns are "prototypically referential": * Croft, William. 1993. "A noun is a noun is a noun — or is it? Some reflections on the universality of semantics". Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, ed. Joshua S. Guenter, Barbara A. Kaiser and Cheryl C. Zoll, 369–80. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society. For an attempt to relate the concepts of identity criteria and prototypical referentiality: * Baker, Mark. 2003, Lexical Categories: verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

External links

– Nouns described by The Idioms Dictionary. {{Authority control Grammar Parts of speech Autological words