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    Types of Nouns: Common, Proper, Collective, Compound, Count, and Noncount

    Types of Nouns: Common, Proper, Collective, Compound, Count, and Noncount

    Traditional grammars define nouns as “words that name people, places, things, and ideas.” Prototypical nouns express grammatical number, singular and plural, as well as possession. English nouns may be further classified into more specific categories: common versus proper, collective, compound, and count versus noncount.

    Common and Proper Nouns

    The first types of nouns are common and proper nouns. Common nouns name general people, places, things and ideas. Common nouns are generally not capitalized unless at the beginning of the sentence or within a title. Proper nouns name specific people, places, things, and ideas such as particular persons, places, organizations, companies, titles, religions, languages, nationalities, ethnicities, months, and days. Proper nouns are always capitalized in writing. For example, the following lists a common noun followed by a proper noun:

    • boy – James
    • girl – Poppy
    • coffee shop – Starbucks
    • library – Milner Library
    • language – English
    • country – England
    • sandwich – Big Mac
    • underwear – Hanes

    Collective Nouns

    The second type of noun is the collective noun. Collective nouns name a group or collection of people or things that are taken together and spoken of as one whole. For example, the following italicized nouns are common collective nouns in the English language:

    • army of ants
    • band of brothers
    • bouquet of flowers
    • brood of chickens
    • congregation of churchgoers
    • colony of bees
    • flock of birds
    • gaggle of geese
    • herd of sheep
    • murder of crows
    • pack of wolves
    • pair of shoes
    • pride of lions
    • school of fish
    • swarm of insects
    • troop of actors

    Compound Nouns

    The third type of noun is the compound noun. A compound noun is a noun or noun phrase that consists of two or more lexemes, often a noun plus another noun or a noun plus an adjective or a verb. Some compound nouns are single words. For example:

    • noun-noun compound: tooth + paste → toothpaste
    • noun-noun compound: day + dream → daydream
    • adjective-noun compound: black + bird → blackbird
    • verb-noun compound: wash + room → washroom
    • noun-verb compound: breast + feeding → breastfeeding
    • adjective-verb compound: high + light → highlight
    • verb-preposition compound: break + up → breakup
    • preposition-verb compound: out + break → outbreak

    Other compound nouns are single words that contain hyphens. For example:

    • mother-in-law
    • commander-in-chief
    • cul-de-sac
    • master-at-arms
    • jack-in-the-box
    • free-for-all
    • six-pack
    • single-mindedness

    Some compound nouns are multiple word noun phrases. The word or words that precedes or follows the noun functioning as the noun phrase head functions as a noun phrase modifier or a noun phrase complement. For example:

    • table cloth
    • lawn tennis
    • piano player
    • post office
    • swimming pool
    • air-raid siren
    • secretary of state
    • Queen of England

    Multiple word compound nouns are noun phrases rather than true nouns.

    Count and Noncount Nouns

    The fourth type of nouns are count nouns and noncount nouns. Count nouns are nouns that can be counted, or quantified. Noun phrases that contain noun counts can contain numerals that function as determinatives. Count nouns express grammatical number through singular and plural forms. For example, the following are examples of singular and plural count nouns:

    • one dog – two dogs
    • one zombie – two zombies
    • one clock – two clocks
    • one wolf – two wolves
    • one person – two people
    • one child – two children
    • one man – two men
    • one thesis – two theses

    Noncount nouns are nouns that cannot be counted, or quantified, with numerals and that lack plural forms. Noncount nouns may be quantified only with general adjectives that treat the noncount noun as a mass or by inserting the noncount noun into a prepositional phrase that follows another noun that expresses a quantity. For example, the following italicized nouns are examples of common noncount nouns in English:

    • information
    • hair
    • coffee
    • some furniture
    • no equipment
    • three types of rice
    • two cups of water
    • a pile of garbage

    The difference between count nouns and noncount nouns is that one can speak of one dog or two dogs but not one rice and two rices (unless, of course, one is speaking about types of rices, which changes the noun rice from a noncount to a count noun).

    Nouns are words that denote a person, place, thing, or idea. English nouns may be further classified into the more specific categories of common versus proper, collective, compound, and count versus noncount.


    Faigley, Lester. 2003. The brief Penguin handbook. New York: Pearson Longman.

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