You need to be able to differentiate different classes of noun.
- Nouns can be common or proper:
- Proper noun = unique (Claire, Lancashire, Sooty)
- Common noun = everyday (table, goose, lesson)Common nouns are often further classified as either concrete or abstract (although this is a semantic categorisation and therefore involves some subjectivity):
- Concrete noun = thing which actually exists in a physical sense (chair, sky, cheese)
- Abstract noun = a concept rather than a physical object (love, hope, disappointment)
- Some nouns can be used concretely or abstractly. Compare: “He was stabbed in the heart” with “He has a kind heart”.
Collective nouns describe a group of things (flock, herd, bunch). Collective nouns are used with singular verbs and can go with ‘a’ – they are not usually plural.
It is often useful to talk about a noun phrase. The noun phrase is the headword (the noun) and everything that belongs with it: any determiner(s) and adjectives. A useful test is to replace the noun with a pronoun. Any other words that have to be removed with the noun belong in the phrase, e.g.: I saw that scruffy black dog twice yesterday – I saw IT twice yesterday, therefore ‘that scruffy black dog’ is the noun phrase.
The noun types discussed so far can be useful to be identified in analytical writing, such as the meanings and representations question. There can be points worth making about the meanings conveyed by these classes of noun. The types of noun below this, however, are less useful in analysis and are more worth noting in the types of question where you are differentiating standard from non-standard usage, such as in CLA or variation.
The way nouns work with number can vary:
- Count nouns can be counted, you can have one___ or any number (lamp, elephant, sheep) – they work with ‘many’, not with ‘much’.
- Non-count nouns don’t go with numbers (traffic, money) – they go with ‘much’, not with ‘many’.
- Mass nouns are usually non-count but can be count in some circumstances (tea, sugar, milk)
- Invariable nouns only have one form, which can be either singular or plural (scissors, music, snow, trousers)