A noun names a person, a place, an animal, a thing, or an idea. Nouns can be plural or singular and can be the subject or object of a verb. For example:
- The books are on the table.
- Love is all you need.
- John is in the garden.
- London is lovely in the summer.
We need to look at how the word is used in the sentence to work out what part of speech it is.
Here are some tips.
Nouns are often the subject or object of a verb.
Nouns often come after an article like 'a' or 'the'.
Nouns often come after an adjective like 'red' or 'pretty' or 'big'.
Nouns are often used with a determiner like 'this' or 'those'.
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Try an exercise here where you need to find the nouns.
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There are different kinds of noun. First, we have proper nouns and common nouns.
Proper nouns are the names of people (Julie, Mr Johnson), places (Paris, Africa, California), organisations (Coca Cola, the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford University), works of art (the Mona Lisa), days of the week (Monday), months (June, October) and festivals (Christmas, Ramadan). In English, proper nouns usually have capital letters at the beginning of the word.
Common nouns are everything else. Words like 'book', 'table', 'mountain', 'love' and 'money' are all common nouns.
Try an exercise here where you need to choose 'common noun' or 'proper noun'.
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Second, there are two types of common noun. These are countable nouns and uncountable nouns. It's really important to know if a noun is countable or uncountable, because it changes how we use it in a sentence.
Countable nouns are things which can be counted like 'table', 'apple' or 'boy'. They usually change their form when we make a plural (they often add an 's'), and can be used with either a singular or a plural verb: one book falls, two books fall.
On the other hand, uncountable nouns are usually things which can't easily be counted, like 'love', 'rice' or 'water'. Uncountable nouns do not make a plural or change their form, and they are always used with a singular verb. We can't say
However, sometimes there's not much logic to whether a noun is countable or uncountable. For example, 'work' is uncountable but 'job' is countable. 'Trip' is countable, but 'travel' is uncountable. 'Word' is countable, but 'vocabulary' is uncountable. Sometimes, a noun is even different in US English and UK English, like 'Lego' or 'accommodation' (both uncountable in the UK but countable in the US).
Here are some kinds of nouns that are often uncountable:
- Abstract nouns (nouns that talk about ideas): love, happiness, peace, democracy.
- Subjects from school or university: Maths, French, history.
- Materials: metal, wood, plastic.
- Liquids: water, coffee, milk.
- Gases: air, oxygen, carbon dioxide.
- Things that are made up of lots of small pieces: sand, rice, salt.
|advice||Could you give me some advice?|
|dust||The old table was covered with dust.|
|electricity||Electricity runs through this wire.|
|equipment||Could you give me a list of the equipment we need for the trip?|
|evidence||What evidence is there against John?|
|fog||I could hardly see because of the thick fog.|
|fun||We had a lot of fun at the party.|
|furniture||I really need to buy some new furniture for my new flat.|
|happiness||How can we increase our happiness?|
|help||The teacher would like some help with moving the chairs.|
|homework||How much homework do you get?|
|information||Could you give me some information about things to do in London?|
|knowledge||He has such a lot of knowledge about history.|
|luck||I need a bit of luck!|
|luggage||Please put leave all your luggage at the hotel and we'll pick it up later.|
|money||How much money do you have in your purse?|
|news||The news is good! John has passed the exam!|
|pasta||I love pasta!|
|progress||We haven't made much progress on our project.|
|research||Julie is doing research in neuroscience.|
|snow||There's been a lot of snow this year.|
|spaghetti||Could we have spaghetti with meatballs?|
|spinach||She likes spinach with garlic.|
|traffic||Was there a lot of traffic in central London?|
|vocabulary||Vocabulary is very important in language learning.|
|work||Do you have any work to do this weekend?|
Words that can be both countable and uncountable
Many, many words can be used in both an uncountable way and a countable way. This is especially true of uncountable food and drink, such as 'coffee' or 'yogurt'. When we're talking in general about coffee or yogurt, the words are uncountable. But, we can use them in a countable way when we mean 'one cup of' or 'one pot of':
- Uncountable: Coffee is my favourite drink.
- Countable: Could you buy two coffees and two teas, please?
- Uncountable: My children eat a lot of yogurt.
- Countable: I bought a pack of six yogurts.
Another way that we use uncountable nouns in a countable way is when we use the word to mean 'a kind of' or 'a type of':
- Uncountable: She loves cheese.
- Countable: That shop sells lots of cheeses (=different kinds of cheese).
|Hair||Countable = one hair|
Urg! There's a hair in my food!
|Uncountable = all the hair on a person's head|
She has very beautiful hair.
|Paper||Countable = a newspaper|
I bought all the papers this morning.
|Uncountable = paper in general|
Could you give me some paper to write on?
|Light||Countable = a single lamp or light bulb|
The Christmas tree was covered in lights.
|Uncountable = light in general|
The room was full of light.
|Experience||Countable = one event|
I travelled to Thailand and it was a really great experience.
|Uncountable = when you've done something for a long time|
She has a lot of experience with children.
Try an exercise here where you need to decide if the words are countable nouns or uncountable nouns.
Nouns which are always plural
Some nouns are always used in a plural form and with a plural verb. You can't count them in the normal way. Sometimes you can use phrases like 'one pair of' or 'three pairs of' if you'd like to count them. Nouns like this are often clothes, or tools that have two parts. Here's a list of words that are always plural:
|Trousers||My trousers are too long.|
|Tights||I need to wear tights with this dress.|
|Shorts||He bought some blue shorts.|
|Scissors||There are three pairs of scissors in the drawer.|
|Tweezers||Could you pass me those tweezers?|
|Binoculars||She gave me some binoculars.|
|Glasses (for seeing better)||I've lost my glasses!|
|Sunglasses||My sunglasses are in my bag.|
|Clothes||She put her clothes in the suitcase.|
|Belongings||Whose belongings are these?|