What is a noun?
A noun is a word which names a person, a thing, a place or an idea.
Sydney Opera House
Proper and common nouns
Mark has a very good friend called John, and they live in a small house near the Sydney Opera House. Their friendship is strong.
- Sydney Opera House as both a concrete noun and a proper noun
- friend as both a concrete noun and a common noun
- friendship as both an abstract noun and a common noun
Singular and plural nouns
The baby held up one foot and waved her left hand.
Babies have two feet and two hands.
Making plural nouns
|If the noun ends in s, x, sh or ch||add -es||boxes|
|If the noun ends in a consonant plus y||change the y to -ies||babies|
|if the noun ends in f or fe||change the f or fe to ves||wolves|
- With some we change the vowel sound completely (mouse – mice; tooth – teeth)
- With some the singular and the plural are the same (fish; sheep)
- With some which end in -o we add -es (hero – heroes; potato – potatoes)
- Some just have a different plural form altogether (child - children)
Countable and non-countable nouns
- Countable nouns (sometimes called unit nouns) are, as you might guess, nouns that we can count.
- Non-countable nouns (sometimes called mass nouns) are nouns that we can't count.
1 glass of water
2 glasses of water
3 glasses of water
1 drop of water
2 drops of water
3 drops of water
Countable, non-countable, singular and plural
Now, let's think back to the last section where we talked about singular and plural nouns. Can we make any sort of relationship between countable/non-countable and singular/plural nouns?
If we think about it, being able to count a noun must mean that we can have more than one of it (2 apples, 3 chairs). This means that countable nouns can be either singular or plural. But if we can't count something, this means that we can't make it plural. As we've seen, it makes no sense to add "s" to water and say "2 waters". So non-countable nouns can't be made plural. And that's why in the last section we said that most nouns can be made plural, not all nouns.
Nouns which are both countable and non-countable
Some nouns can be both countable and non-countable, depending on how we're using them. Have a look at these sentences:
I go to work every day.
The works of Van Gogh are astonishing.
I like sandwiches with cheese and lettuce.
Many different cheeses are made in the UK.
Possessive forms of nouns
Every noun has what we call a possessive form. This is the form the noun takes when we want to say that it "owns" something. What do we mean by this? Well, let's have a look at a few nouns:
- President Obama
Each of these nouns can own something or, if you like, have something that "belongs" to it. President Obama could own a dog, for example, the baby could own a toy and the caterpillar could (and probably does!) own some legs. So we could say:
This is the dog that belongs to President Obama.
This is the toy that belongs to the baby.
These are the legs that belong to the caterpillar.
But this is a quite long-winded way to talk about ownership, or "possession", so instead we can say:
This is President Obama's dog.
This is the baby's toy.
These are the caterpillar's legs.
What we've done here is change the nouns to their possessive forms to show that they own something. How have we changed the nouns exactly? Well, as you can see, with these nouns we've added an apostrophe and an "s". All possessive forms are made with some combination of apostrophe and "s". Let's have a look at some different cases to see what different combinations of apostrophe and "s" we need to add.
Singular nouns not ending in "s"
To change singular nouns (and non-countable nouns) not ending in "s" to their possessive form, we add an apostrophe and an "s".
Mark's car is new. (meaning - the car of Mark)
My friend's house is big. (meaning - the house of my friend)
This information's usefulness is questionable. (non-countable - meaning - the usefulness of the information)
Singular nouns ending in "s"
Some singular nouns end in "s". To change these to their possessive form we normally just add an apostrophe:
The bus' wheels were dangerously flat. (meaning - the wheels of the bus)
Tess' children all lived away from home. (meaning - the children of Tess)
...although adding an apostrophe and an "s" is also okay:
The bus's wheels were dangerously flat.
Tess's children all lived away from home.
Plural nouns not ending in "s"
Remember we saw earlier in this unit that some plural forms of nouns are irregular, like "sheep", "children" and "mice". To make the possessive form of these we add an apostrophe and an "s":
The children's dinner was getting cold. (meaning - the dinner of the children)
The mice's tails were pink. (meaning - the tails of the mice)
Plural nouns ending in "s"
To make most nouns plural, remember that we just added "s" or "es". To make the possessive forms of these we just add an apostrophe:
The birds' nest was in the tree. (meaning - the nest of the birds)
The books' authors had a party. (meaning - the authors of the books)
Possessive or contraction?
Forming possessives is not the only reason we use apostrophes and "s". We also use an apostrophe and an "s" when we form a contraction of a word. A contraction happens when we make two words into one by replacing one or more of the letters with an apostrophe. So, for example, instead of saying:
John has been really helpful today.
...we would normally say:
John's been really helpful today.
What we've done here is combine two words into one, replacing the beginning of the word "has" with an apostrophe to make it easier to say. (In formal writing we don't normally use contractions).
Can you see how this use of apostrophe and "s" is different to a possessive form of a noun? Remember we use possessive forms of nouns to say that they own something. In the example above "John" doesn't own anything.
Let's move on now to the last two types of noun that we're going to look at - collective and compound nouns.
The team was playing well.
The farmer had a big flock of sheep.
The audience is cheering loudly.
To make compound nouns plural, we add "s" if we write it as one word. If it is hyphenated or two separate words, we only make the word that there is more than one of plural.
football - footballs
city state - city states
son-in-law - sons-in-law
Here's a summary of the main points we learnt in this unit.
- Nouns are words which name a person, a thing, a place or an idea.
- Concrete nouns are nouns where we can perceive the things they represent. Abstract nouns are
nouns where we
can't perceive the things they represent.
computer, car (concrete)
friendship, envy (abstract)
- Proper nouns refer to a specific person, place or thing. Common nouns don't refer to a
specific person, place or thing.
John, France (proper)
plant, presentation (common)
- We make most nouns plural by adding "s". Some nouns with certain endings have different rules for making the plural form, and some have
irregular plural forms.
house - houses
fox - foxes
goose - geese
- Countable nouns are nouns that we can count and can be either singular or plural. Non-countable nouns are nouns that we can't count. They can't be plural. Some nouns can be both countable and non-countable, depending on how we
- We use the possessive form of a noun when we want to say that it "owns" something.
the car's engine
- Collective nouns can be singular or plural, depending on the context, and talk about a group of people or things.
- We make compound nouns by sticking two or more words together
Image attribution in video: City vector
There's a downloadable factsheet for nouns below.