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Nouns often need a word called an article or determiner (like the or that). These words usually do not go with other kinds of words like verbs or adverbs. (For example, people do not also describe nouns). In English, there are more nouns than any other kind of word.
Every language in the world has nouns, but they are not always used in the same ways. They also can have different properties in different languages. In some other languages, nouns do not change for singular and plural, and sometimes there is no word for the.
Examples of nouns: time, people, way, year, government, day, world, life, work, part, number, house, system, company, end, party, information.
Uses of nouns
Nouns can sometimes describe other nouns (such as a soccer ball). When they do this, they are called modifiers or adjuncts.
There are also verb forms that can be used in the same way as nouns (such as 'I like running.') These are called verbals or verbal nouns, and include participles (which can also be adjectives) and infinitives.
Nouns are classified into common and proper. Pronouns have commonly been considered a different part of speech from nouns, but in the past some grammars have included them as nouns as do many modern linguists.
Proper nouns (also called proper name) are specific names. Examples of proper nouns are: London, John, God, October, Mozart, Saturday, Coke, Mr. Brown, Atlantic Ocean. Proper nouns are individual things with names, not general nouns.
Proper nouns begin with an upper case (capital) letter in English and many other languages that use the Roman alphabet. (However, in German, all nouns begin with an upper case letter.) The word "I" is really a pronoun, although it is capitalized in English, like a proper noun.
Common nouns are general names that are unspecific. Sometimes the same word can be either a common noun or a proper noun, depending on how it is used; for example:
- there can be many gods, but there is only one God.
- there can be many internets (two or more networks connected together), but the largest internet in the world is the Internet.
In English and many other languages, nouns have 'number'. But some nouns are only singular (such as furniture, physics) and others are only plural (such as clothes, police). Also, some nouns are countable (for example, one piece, two pieces) but others are uncountable (for example, we do not say one furniture, two furnitures).
The plural form of most nouns is created simply by adding the letter(s) -(e)s.
- more than one snake = snakes
- more than one ski = skis
- more than one Barrymore = Barrymores
Despite plural forms being written using the letter(s) -(e)s, the pronunciation of the letter(s) will pronounced as /-s/, /-z/, or /-ız/ depending on which type of phoneme, or unique sound, comes before it. These variations of the plural morpheme are called allomorphs.
Note that some dictionaries list "busses" as an acceptable plural for "bus". Presumably, this is because the plural "buses" looks like it ought to rhyme with the plural of "fuse," which is "fuses." "Buses" is still listed as the preferable plural form. "Busses" is the plural, of course, for "buss," a seldom used word for "kiss."
There are several nouns that have irregular plural forms. Plurals formed in this way are sometimes called mutated (or mutating) plurals.
- more than one child = children
- more than one woman = women
- more than one man = men
- more than one person = people
- more than one goose = geese
- more than one mouse = mice
- more than one deer = deer
- more than one ox = oxen
- more than one tooth = teeth
Many of the above irregular plural forms stem from Old English, which had more complex rules for making plural forms.
And, finally, there are nouns that maintain their Latin or Greek form in the plural. (See media and data and alumni, below.)
- more than one nucleus = nuclei
- more than one syllabus = syllabi
- more than one focus = foci
- more than one fungus = fungi
- more than one cactus = cacti (cactuses is acceptable)
- more than one thesis = theses
- more than one crisis = crises*
- more than one phenomenon = phenomena
- more than one index = indices (indexes is acceptable)
- more than one appendix = appendices (appendixes is acceptable)
- more than one criterion = criteria
- more than one octopus = octopi
Nouns are words for things, and since things can be possessed, nouns can also change to show possession in grammar. In English, we usually add an apostrophe and an s to nouns to make them possessive, or sometimes just an apostrophe when there is already an s at the end, like this:
- This is Sam. This is Sam's cat.
- The woman's hair is long.
- There are three cats. The cat's mother is sleeping.
How adjectives become nouns
Most adjectives become nouns by adding the suffix -ness. Example: Take the adjective 'natural', add 'ness' to get 'naturalness', a noun. To see a list of 100 adjectives used in Basic English, click here.
Word order in noun phrases
A noun phrase is a phrase where the head word is a noun. In English, the word order of most noun phrases is that determiners, adjectives, and modifying nouns in respective order must appear before the head word, and relative clauses must appear after the head word.
- "noun, a.1" The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/display/00327657?keytype=ref&ijkey=56n3orQ0BYHJo>.
- Huddleston, R. & Pullum, G. K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
- "Noun phrases: order - English Grammar Today - Cambridge Dictionary" (in en). https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/noun-phrases-order.
- Plural Noun Forms." Plural Noun Forms. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Sept. 2014.