FormIn English, many especially monosyllabic nouns cannot formally be identified as such (woman, girl, dog, cat, king, war), whereas in some languages, such as LATIN, they have distinctive endings (femina, puella; canis, faelis; bellum). Many polysyllabic nouns, however, are identifiable by suffixes used to derive nouns from other nouns or from verbs and adjectives: -ing (farming, swimming); -er (dancer, writer); -ation (association, organization); -ity (morality, reality); -ness (darkness, kindness); -ism (humanism, racism), -ist (rationalist, socialist).
FunctionIn a noun phrase, a noun functions as the main or only word which can be subject (‘The crew boarded the vessel’), direct object (‘They will clean up the waste’), indirect object (‘I told the committee my views’), subject complement (‘One fascinating discovery was a musket’), object complement (‘Everybody thought her the best candidate’), adverbial (‘We saw them last night’), complement of a preposition (‘We did it for Tony’); modifier of another noun (‘income tax’).
SubclassesThere are a number of grammatical and semantic subclasses of nouns: common or proper (Jane, Jeremy); animate (child) or inanimate (pencil); abstract (opinion) or concrete (glass), countable (student) or uncountable (information). In the sentence Pick up the book, the noun book is common, inanimate, concrete, and countable. In the sentence Barbara came too, the noun Barbara is proper, animate, concrete, and in this instance uncountable. A noun may have one feature in one context and the opposite feature in another: glass is countable in Have another glass of orange juice, uncountable in That dish is made of cut glass.
NumberCountable nouns make a distinction between singular and plural in number. The distinction is generally indicated by a difference between singular and plural forms (cat/cats, sample/samples, phenomenon/phenomena).
GenderEnglish does not have GENDER classes of nouns as in Latin and GERMAN, but some nouns have male and female reference: father, boy; mother, girl. There are some pairs of nouns one of which has a suffix marking a male/female contrast: host/hostess, hero/heroine, usher/usherette; widow/widower. The gender reference of human nouns becomes manifest when he or she relates to the noun: My neighbour said she/he wanted to speak to you. Non-human animate nouns (and nouns relating to young children, depending on the circumstances) allow male, female, or non-sexual reference: Don't touch the dog; he/she/it has fleas.
CaseOld English had, like Latin, a complex CASE system for its nouns. Modern English, however, only makes two case distinctions: common case (Tom) and genitive case (Tom's). For regular plurals, the distinction is found only in punctuation, but not in pronunciation: students/students' (contrast men and men's).
See ABSTRACT AND CONCRETE, ANIMATE NOUN, COMMON NOUN, COUNTABLE AND UNCOUNTABLE, NAME, NUMBER, OLD ENGLISH, PROPER NOUN, SUBSTANTIVE.
noun / noun/ • n. Gram. a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things (common noun) , or to name a particular one of these (proper noun) . DERIVATIVES: noun·al / ˈnounəl/ adj. ORIGIN: late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French, from Latin nomen ‘name.’