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Free Grammar HelpWordsTypes of Nouns

There are five types of nouns. Nouns can fall into several categories. In fact, they can be in more category at one time.

First let's divide the nouns into common nouns and proper nouns. Proper nouns are names, and almost always begin with a capital letter, like the names of countries: United States of America, Mexico, Canada, President Clinton, President Trump. Common nouns are everything else: dog, chair, car, democracy, snow, president, secretary. Notice that the name of a position is a common noun: president, general, secretary, etc. But when combined with a person's name, it becomes a title and is therefore a proper noun: President Trump, Secretary Clinton, Speaker Ryan. Sometimes we use a capital for a job title without the name because the title stands in for the person and is treated as a proper noun: the President of the United States (the President), the Queen of England (the Queen).

Both common nouns and proper nouns can be either concrete or abstract. Concrete nouns are things you can touch: cat, spoon, Uncle Bob, President Clinton. Abstract nouns exist only as ideas: democracy, Theory of Relativity, the President.

Common nouns

The usual way we think of a noun is a common noun. It's just a thing. Car, horse, brother, idea, democracy, failure: these are all common nouns.

Concrete nouns

A noun that you could see, feel, or touch is a concrete noun. It doesn't have to be made out of concrete.

Abstract nouns

An abstract noun is an idea or concept. Democracy, fidelity, purity, selflessness, dishonesty: these are concepts. They are abstract nouns.

Proper Nouns

Nouns that are someone's or something's name are proper nouns. These nouns must begin with capital letters. Peter J. Francis = proper noun. Barak Obama = proper noun. The White House = proper noun. My house = not proper noun.

When is an abstract noun a proper noun? That's a good question, and if you can give me any suggestions use the question form to submit. In one sense an office such as President is abstract, and we can point to the holder of the office as an example of that concept. So we have the Queen, the President, the Pope. Countries are pretty abstract concepts, but we can point to the actual physical location.

The final type of noun is the collective noun.

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are nouns that represent groups of things. Collective nouns are often followed by "of" and the type of thing. A flock of birds. A herd of cows. There are collective nouns for many different things. A gaggle of geese (on the ground, but in the air are a skein); a pride of lions; a murder of crows; a school of fish.

Here's a common question: Does the noun “livestock” take a singular or plural verb, as in: “Livestock [has/have] been important in serving humankind.”?

The answer depends on whether or not you are thinking of the livestock in the collective or as individuals. As the question is asked, the answer is singular: "has." But if I were complaining to my neighbour about his cows trampling my cornfield, I'd say something "Your $%^& livestock have been in my field again!"

Similarly: a flock of pigeons has taken roost in my apple tree. (Because they all did this together.) The flock have been pooping on my statue of Napoleon. (Because individual members poop.)