any member of a class of words that can function as the main or only elements of subjects of verbs (A dog just barked), or of objects of verbs or prepositions (to send money from home), and that in English can take plural forms and possessive endings (Three of his buddies want to borrow John's laptop). Nouns are often described as referring to persons, places, things, states, or qualities, and the word noun is itself often used as an attributive modifier, as in noun compound; noun group.
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As we see from its dictionary definition, a noun can name not only a physical thing but also abstract things such as a state ( happiness ) or a quality ( beauty ). The word is defined further in terms of the way it functions in the language—as a subject or object in a sentence or as the object of a preposition. In any of those positions, it can be modified by an adjective or adjective phrase: a talented but quirky artist.
Nouns are typically said to fall into two categories: proper noun and common noun. A proper noun designates a particular person, place, or thing and is normally capitalized: Shakespeare, Mexico, the Pentagon. A common noun refers to a generic person, place, or thing: teacher, classroom, smartphone. The plural form of a common noun names a set or group. (Proper nouns are pluralized only in special circumstances: There are many Springfields in the United States. Oh, no, the Smiths are coming to dinner again. )
To form the plural, most common nouns simply add an -s ( teachers, classrooms, smartphones ). Some nouns ending in –o (but not all) add -es. Nouns ending in the sounds [ch], /tʃ/, [j], /dʒ/, [sh], /ʃ/, [zh], /ʒ/, [s], /s/, or [z] /z/ also have plurals ending in -es ( bus/buses, ash, ashes, judge/judges ). Several nouns form the plural in a different way. These include child/children, knife/knives, and a number of others. Some nouns have a plural form identical to that of the singular: sheep/sheep. Seven English nouns form their plural by changing the vowel in the middle of the word: woman/women, man/men, goose/geese, tooth/teeth, foot/feet, louse/lice. (Can you think of the seventh one?*) And then, of course, there are nouns borrowed from other languages that keep their non-English plurals ( bacterium/bacteria, chapeau/chapeaux, kibbutz/kibbutzim ).
But not all nouns can be pluralized. Thus we have another way to categorize nouns. Those that can be thought of in the plural are called count nouns; the things they name can be counted and enumerated. Other nouns, called mass nouns or noncount nouns, name things that are usually not counted, even when the amount grows larger. This class includes nouns that refer to a substance ( water, sand, oxygen, electricity ), a quality ( kindness, honesty ), or an abstract concept ( happiness, health ). There are exceptions: some substances can be spoken of in the plural if you are referring to various kinds ( The wines of France are known throughout the world ) or to units or containers of the substance ( We’ll have three coffees and two teas ).
Certain other nouns that name something relatively concrete, like furniture, flatware, hardware, and software, are also treated as mass nouns. This means that in English we do not say “This computer comes with the latest softwares.” Nor do we say “I’m buying a furniture” (although we can buy a couch or a table ), since mass nouns normally cannot be immediately preceded by “a,” “an,” or a numeral. Instead, we use the singular form even when referring to large quantities, saying things like “a lot of software” or “too much furniture.” This distinction between count nouns and mass nouns, complex though it may seem, is pretty much absorbed automatically if you grow up speaking English. But it can be one of the most difficult things to assimilate for people learning English as a foreign language. The answer? Read, read, read. And listen.
- nounal, adjective
- noun·al·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023
How to use noun in a sentence
His own writing is invariably clear, his prose tautly built on nouns and verbs.‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is a bestseller, but its author, Walter Tevis, was hardly a one-hit wonder | Michael Dirda | February 3, 2021 | Washington Post
Entities are things, people, places, or concepts, which may be represented by nouns or names.How NLP and AI are revolutionizing SEO-friendly content [Five tools to help you] | May Habib | December 29, 2020 | Search Engine Watch
He said at the time that 99% of search queries on Yahoo have a noun in them.Google Search gets deeper into the ‘real-world’ with Busyness, Duplex and AR in Maps | Greg Sterling | October 16, 2020 | Search Engine Land
This nesting of proper nouns helps to make higher math impenetrable not just to outsiders, but also to working mathematicians trying to read their way from one subfield into another.Why Mathematicians Should Stop Naming Things After Each Other - Issue 89: The Dark Side | Laura Ball | September 2, 2020 | Nautilus
Following the social science usage of the time, Mead never employed the term gender in anything other than a linguistic sense, such as nouns that might be classed as feminine, masculine, or neuter.Gender Is What You Make of It - Issue 88: Love & Sex | Charles King | August 5, 2020 | Nautilus
The proper noun when spoken can be confused for the common noun.
The noun “mechanicals” refers to any physical reproduction of a composed and performed work—that is, “canned music.”Van Dyke Parks on How Songwriters Are Getting Screwed in the Digital Age | Van Dyke Parks | June 4, 2014 | THE DAILY BEAST
“The Great Depression” as a proper noun only came into popular use in the 1950s, long after the event was over.
When I shut off the radio, the last word I hear must be a noun—not a verb, or adjective, or preposition.
Star Trek (noun) Science-fiction franchise launched on television in 1966.‘Star Trek’ for Dummies: Get Ready for ‘Into Darkness’ With Our Primer | Sujay Kumar | May 14, 2013 | THE DAILY BEAST
I can find no authority for making it a collective noun, as Bell suggests.Chaucer's Works, Volume 1 (of 7) -- Romaunt of the Rose; Minor Poems | Geoffrey Chaucer
This often becomes an abstract feminine noun, answering to the French termination -ée; armée in Mistral's language isPg 56 armado.Frdric Mistral | Charles Alfred Downer
On the other hand, when the words “a black” are heard, the mind constructs no image; it waits until the noun modified is spoken.English: Composition and Literature | W. F. (William Franklin) Webster
In balanced sentences one part is balanced against another,—a noun and a noun, an adjective and an adjective, phrase and phrase.English: Composition and Literature | W. F. (William Franklin) Webster
The words pendulum and intensity were first used by him, and it was he who first used fluid as a noun.Stories That Words Tell Us | Elizabeth O'Neill
British Dictionary definitions for noun
: Abbreviation: N, n Related adjective: nominal
a word or group of words that refers to a person, place, or thing or any syntactically similar word
(as modifier): a noun phrase
- nounal, adjective
- nounally, adverb
- nounless, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
Cultural definitions for noun
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.