Grammar Basics: Noun

Noun: A noun is a word used to name a person, animal, place, thing, or an abstract idea. Nouns tell you about the ‘whats’ ‘whos’ and ‘wheres’about the language. Let's see an example:

TG and Dagny went to Maxims to order a chocolate truffle cake.

TG and Dagny are persons, Maxims is a place and chocolate truffle cake is a thing.

Nouns can be broadly classified into

  • Common nouns
  • Proper nouns
  • Concrete Nouns
  • Abstract Nouns
  • Countable Nouns
  • Non Countable Nouns
  • Collective Nouns
Common Noun: A common noun is a noun referring to a person, place or thing in a general sense. Usually you write a common noun with a capital letter only when a common noun begins a sentence.

Go to the garden. (place)
Pass me my phone. (thing)
Call the police. (people)
Milk the cow. (animal)

Proper Noun: Proper noun represents the name of a specific person, place, or thing. The names of days of the week, months, historical documents, institutions, organizations, religions, their holy texts and their adherents are all proper nouns. Proper noun begins with a capital letter irrespective of its placement in a sentence.

Check out the following table to understand the difference between the two forms of nouns.
cat 2010 cat 2011 cat verbal
I donated most of my old clothes and headed to Benetton to buy some new ones.

clothes= common noun; Benetton= proper noun
Concrete Noun:

concrete noun is a group of nouns that names anything or anyone that you can perceive through your five senses: touch, sight, taste, hearing, or smell.
cat 2010, cat 2011, CAT Verbal

Example: Samanthaenjoyed drinking her banana shake.

Here banana shake is a concrete noun. You can see, taste (yum!), smell, and touch the shake. Any noun that you can perceive with at least one of your five senses is a concrete noun.

Abstract Noun

An abstract noun is a group of nouns that you cannot perceive through your five senses. It is the opposite of concrete noun.
CAT 2010, CAT 2011, CAT Verbal
Rohan got a bravery award this year for saving a small child from drowning.

Some of the examples of abstract nouns are : Love, hatred, loneliness, sadness, happiness, anger, ire, wrath, fun, education, courage, bravery, ability, talent, optimism, pessimism, luck, fortune, religion, valor, opportunity, faith, hope, contempt, duplicity, need, want, necessity, desire, wantonness, greed, lust, sympathy, affection, ardor, fondness, attachment, intimacy, worship, passion, emotion, joy, desperation, depression, disconsolation, regard, charity, goodwill, kindness, benevolence.

Countable Nouns
: A countable noun represents the names of separate ideas, objects, people etc. that can be counted. You can use numbers or a/an before the countable nouns.

Rohan gave two chocolates to Sohan.
I saw three cats on the roof.

Uncountable Nouns: A
non-countable noun (or mass noun) represents people, places, things or ideas that cannot be counted. Non countable nouns take singular verb in a sentence and you cannot add a/an in the front and -s at the end of a non countable noun.

Pass me a glass of water, please. (NOT a water or two waters)
We are planning to buy new furniture for our office. (NOT one furniture or a furniture)
CAT 2010, CAT 2011, CAT Verbal

There are some nouns that are usually uncountable in English language but are countable in other languages.
These are:

accommodation, advice, applause, assistance, bread, baggage, camping, cash, chaos, chess, cloth, clothing, conduct, courage, cutlery, dancing, dirt, employment, equipment, evidence, fun, furniture, harm, health, homework, housing, information, leisure, litter, luck, luggage, machinery, money, mud, music, news, nonsense, parking, pay, permission, photography, poetry, pollution, produce, progress, publicity, research, rubbish, safety, scenery, shopping, sight seeing, smoke, software, sunshine, transport, violence, wine, weather, work.

Baggage, a noun countable noun, cannot have s/es in the end. You can, however, count the number of suitcases or bags you are carrying with yourself.

Often, we can make uncountable words countable by adding a prepositional phrase in front of it.
CAT 2010, CAT 2011, CAT Verbal
Sometimes the same word may have a slightly different meaning when it is used as countable and non countable noun.
I am going to buy some packing paper. (non countable)
Where have you kept today's paper? (a newspaper/ countable)

When you are happy, time flies by so quickly. (non countable)
I have reminded Anna at least three times to return my book. (countable)

Random stuff about countable and non countable nouns.
  • News, groceries, customs, and thanks are uncountable nouns, not plural. E.g. This news is very important. I have bought the groceries (NOT a grocery)
  • Travel means 'travelling in general'. You cannot say ' a travel ' to mean a journey or a trip. E.g. Have a happy journey. (NOT a happy travel)
  • "on your travels'’, "in all weathers” are fixed expressions and are used in a plural form. E.g. Did you meet anyone exciting on your travels? Dad goes to office in all weathers.
  • Hair is normally uncountable in English language. E.g. Her hair is black. But one strand of hair is a hair (countable). E.g. There are two hairs in your soup.
  • Tea, coffee, juice etc. (drinks) are normally uncountable. E.g. Coffee is my favourite drink. But drinks can be countable when you are thinking of a cup/ a glass etc. E.g. I would like to order two coffees. An apple juice, please.
Collective Noun: A collective noun refers to a group of things, animals, or persons. You can count the individual members in the group, but usually a group considered as a whole is considered one unit. Collective nouns can be used in both the singular form and the plural form. They are similar to a non-countable noun, and are roughly the opposite of a countable noun. Check out the chart below:
CAT 2010, CAT 2011, CAT Verbal
People, things or animals can behave both as separate entities and collectively as a group; so the nouns can be either singular or plural, depending on the context.
How would you identify what verbs or pronouns would be used with collective nouns?
Case 1: Imagine a herd of buffalos grazing in a grassland. What would happen when a lion races out of bushes to attack the buffalos? They would all run in one direction as one unit to save their lives. So when we talk of collective noun as one unit, the noun becomes a singular entity and takes a singular verb and pronoun.
CAT 2010, CAT 2011, CAT Verbal
The herd of buffaloes spends most of its time grazing the grass. (herd= singular; spends= singular; its=singular)
After an hour, the jury gave its verdict. (jury=singular; its = singular; all the members of the jury together acted as a single entity and gave a unanimous decision)

Case 2: Let's imagine that the members of the jury have to come to a single conclusion but there were differences in opinions among the members of the jury. All of them had a different say. A jury is a group of people but all of them have a different opinion. They are not able to act as ONE. We can say:
CAT 2010, CAT 2011, CAt Verbal
The jury were divided in their opinion.
After a long break, the faculty start their new research projects.

So when the members in a group are acting as an individual, the collective noun is plural and requires a plural verb.

Noun- Gender: English language is pretty easy on categorizing people as ‘he’or ‘she’ and things as ‘it’. Let's take a look at these quick and easy points to remember.
  • When you talk about animals, use 'who' instead of 'which'. E.g. Sam had a parrot who used to speak.
  • When you don't know the sex of the person, use he/him/his. E.g. If he finds the person who created all the mischief, he is going to kill him. If you find the usage of he/him/his sexist, you can avoid that as well. Use he or she, him or her and his or her instead. E.g. If he finds the person who created all the mischief, he is going to kill him or her.
  • The noun that determines either the name of a male or a female is called a Common gender. E.g.
  • baby, child , cousin, enemy, friend, infant , monarch, neighbour, orphan, parent, pupil, person, relation servant, student, thief.
  • Collective nouns, even if they refer to living-beings, are used as neuter-nouns. E.g. The team is going to play its game.
  • Objects noted for their power, strength, and violence are used as Masculine gender nouns- The Sun, Summer, Winter, Time, Death e.g. Time is like the wind, he lifts the light and leaves the heavy.
  • Objects noted for their beauty, gentleness and grace are used as Feminine gender nouns- the Moon, the Earth, Spring, Autumn, Nature, Liberty. E.g. Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
CAT 2010, CAT 2011, CAT Verbal

There are three ways of forming a Feminine noun from the Masculine noun
1. By adding a syllable (-ess, ine, trix, -a, etc.). E.g. host-hostess, poet- poetess, viscount-viscountess, conductor-conductress, tiger-tigress, hero-heroine, testator-testatrix, etc.
2. By placing a word before or after. E.g. salesman-saleswoman, manservant-maidservant, landlord-landlady etc.
3. By using an entirely different word. See the following chart.
CAT 2010, CAT 2011
Possessive Nouns

In a possessive case, a noun or pronoun changes its structure to talk about possessions, relationships, physical characteristics, especially when the first noun refers to the person, animal, country, organization or other group of creatures. Usually, nouns become possessive by adding a combination of an apostrophe and the letter "s".

Examples:* Sam's mother is a florist. (NOT the mother of Sam)
Rohan's bike is new.
The company's success depends on management's values.
CAT 2010, CAT 2011, CAT Verbal

Following are the general structures that are followed to show possession.
CAT 2010, CAT 2011, CAT Verbal
Optional: If the noun is singular and ends with an s, add 's or add only the apostrophe (').

The bus's tires went flat.
The bus' tires went flat.

Dickens' novels are read by young and old alike.
Dickens's novels are read by young and old alike

Let's see how an apostrophe's placement can alter the meanings of the sentences:

Tom's and Harry'snew books are available in the market.
This means that Tom and Harry wrote separate books and now the books are available in the market.

Tom and Harry'snew books are available in the market.
This means Tom and Harry together authored new books and now the books are available in the market.
CAT 2010, CAT 2011, CAT verbal
Jack and Jill'schildren are playing in the park.
This means that Jack and Jill are parents of the children.

Jack's and Jill'schildren are playing in the park.
This means that Jack's children and Jill's children are playing in the park.
Two separate lot of children playing in park.
Possessive without a noun

*If the meaning is clear we can use the possessive without the following noun.

Whose book is this? It's Rohan's.
This is not my dress. It's my sister's.

*You can use 's with time expressions (yesterday/ next week/today/tomorrow/ Sunday/ Monday etc.)

Yesterday's party got cancelled.
Are you attending Monday's conference?
He has got two weeks' leave.

Noun + Noun Structure

*When we use noun + noun structure, the first noun is like an adjective. It is normally singular but the meaning is plural.
For example, a bookshop is a place where you can buy books; a tea bar is a bar where you can have tea.

Similarly, we say
a five rupee note (NOT five rupees note)
a night long journey (NOT nights long journey)
a five minute walk or five minutes' walk (NOT five minutes walk)
Write C for the countable an U for the uncountable nouns for the words marked in bold.
1. May I use your telephone?
2. Do you have a spare toothbrush?
3. Where have your kept my dictionary?
4. I want to write some notes but I haven't got anypaper.
5. Whose baggage is lying here?
6. There is no electricity in this area for the past two days.
7. Honesty is the best policy.
8. Using flash cards is a good way to increase your vocabulary.
9. Let me check what I have received in my mailtoday.
10. We are planning to shift furniture by tomorrow.
11. Two coffees, please.
12. Have you got any information about tomorrow's exam schedule?
13. He got a job because of his good work experience.
14. I have some interesting experiences to share from my trip.
15. Light comes from the Sun.
Choose the correct option

1. Mathematics are/ismy favourite subject.
2. The police wants/wantto interview the hotel manager about the suicide case last weekend.
3. Where do/does he live/lives?
4. The government want/wantsto increase taxes.
5. No news is/are a good news.
6. Five lakh rupees were/wasstolen in a robbery.
7. No one got hurt but the damage/damagesto the bike was/were quite bad.
8. You cannot sit here. There isn't/aren't room/rooms.
9. Scotland's/ Scotland climate is getting warmer.
10. Henry/ Henry's The Eighth/Eighth's six wives all lived in one palace.



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