By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
i. Identify nouns in sentences.
ii. Distinguish between proper nouns and common nouns.
iii. Use proper and common nouns appropriately.
What is a noun?
The word ‘noun’ comes from Latin and means the name by which one thing is distinguished from another. Therefore, a noun simply means a word that names (what you normally refer to as a naming word), be it the name of a person, an animal, a place, a quality, a state, an activity, a process, a habit, or an idea. For example, the words underlined in the sentences below are nouns.
1. Ama is a hardworking girl. (The nouns in this sentence are persons.)
2. The lizard wants to swallow the insect. (The nouns in this sentence are animals.)
3. Is Obawale a fishing village? (The nouns in this sentence are places.)
4. We admire your wisdom and your honesty. (The nouns in this sentence are qualities.)
5. Is it true that sadness is the opposite of happiness? (The nouns in this sentence are states.)
6. Teaching is a noble profession. (The nouns in this sentence involve doing some activities.)
7. Drinking and smoking can be dangerous to one’s health. (The nouns underlined in this sentence are habits.)
8. Heredity is a biological process. (The nouns in this sentence are processes.)
Therefore, a noun may name a person, an animal, a place, a quality, a state, an activity, a habit, a process, an idea, and so on.
How do we identify a noun then?
1. A word is likely to be a noun if it has the plural marker „-s‟, meaning “more than one”. For example: tables, pencils, mats, books
Observe the following examples.
i. There are many tables in the classroom.
In this example, the noun tables is made up of the singular form table and the plural marker –s. So, we have table + s = tables
So, the plural marker –s in the word tables helps us to know that the forms table and tables are nouns.
ii. I have three pencils in my school bag.
In this example, the noun pencils is made up of the singular form pencil and the plural marker –s. So, we have, pencil + s = pencils it is seen that all words that have the plural marker –s are nouns. This also means that all words that can admit the plural marker –s are nouns.
2. A word is likely to be a noun if it ends in ‘er’, ‘or’ ‘ist’, ‘ness’, ‘ity’, ‘ism’, ‘ion’, ‘sion’, ‘nce’, or ‘ment’. For example:
|i.||er as in||teacher||learner||worker||player|
|ii.||or as in||actor||governor||emperor||tractor|
|iii.||ist as in||Methodist||pianist||evangelist||motorist|
|iv.||ness as in||happiness||goodness||holiness||highness|
|v.||ity as in||ability||stability||identity||prosperity|
|vi.||ism as in||patriotism||idealism||symbolism||behaviourism|
|vii.||tion as in||position||dictation||correction||admiration|
|viii.||sion as in||admission||profession||occasion||commission|
|ix.||nce as in||assistance||patience||remittance||independence|
|x.||ment as in||movement||ailment||development||management|
Here is a further explanation of this point. The word teacher, for example, consists of two units:
teach + er
Similarly, each of the words learner, worker, and player consists of two units. The unit „-er‟ means “one who” and whenever it is attached to another unit, the resultant form becomes a noun. So, words that end in the unit „-er‟ (meaning „one who‟) are likely to be nouns.
Observe, however, that the „-er‟ ending the word master, for example, does not convey the meaning “one who”. Also, not every word ending in „-er‟ is a noun. For example, bigger, taller, fatter, etc. are adjective.
Thus, we say that words that end in „-er‟ „-or‟ „-ist‟, „-ness‟, „-ity‟, „-ism‟, „-ion‟,-sion‟, „-nce‟, or „-ment‟ are like ly to be nouns.
3. A word is likely to be a noun if it is the head of a noun phrase. The head of each of the noun phrases below is underlined:
i. a book
ii. this young boy
iii. a good student
iv. the beautifully dressed lady
Have you noticed that the head of each of the noun phrases above is a noun? Book, boy, student, and lady as used in the examples above are all nouns. So, the head of the noun phrase is a noun.
Types of nouns
It is important that you clearly make as many distinctions of the noun as possible so that you learn the special usage of each kind. Nouns can be:
1. Proper or common
a. count (countable) or non-count (uncountable)
b. singular or plural
c. animate or inanimate concrete or abstract
d. regular or irregular
e. masculine or feminine
f. simple or compound
Notice that, although each of the proper nouns in the examples below does not begin the sentence, it is written with an initial capital letter. So, proper nouns are on all occasions written with an initial capital letter.
2. When a title or a rank accompanies a name, it becomes part of the proper noun and is, therefore, written with an initial capital letter. For example:
a. Did you see Inspector Bediako yesterday?
b. My favourite mentor is Teacher Ibrahim.
c. It was Dr Neene who treated the boy.
d. I hear Professor Yomgo is visiting our school today.
You observe that each of the titles, Inspector, Teacher, Dr, and Professor in the examples above is written with an initial capital letter. This is because it accompanies a name. It is considered as part of the name and is therefore written with an initial capital letter.
3. Mostly, a proper noun has only one form (the singular form) because proper nouns refer to one specific person or thing. For example:
So, proper nouns do not usually have plural forms.
4. Usually, a proper noun is not preceded by an article. For example, you cannot say: I saw a Kofi yesterday. Instead you will say: I saw Kofi yesterday.
However, some proper nouns take obligatory articles. For example:
The United Kingdom
The Democratic Republic of Congo.
What is a common noun?
A common noun is a name that does not specify. It usually names any one or more of a general group of things. For example, tree, farmer, cats, boys, cups. All nouns that are not proper nouns are common nouns.
How do we use common nouns?
I. A common noun is not written with an initial capital letter unless it begins a sentence. For example:
a. There is only one tree in our house.
b. Trees can be useful to mankind.
Observe that trees in the first example is not written with an initial capital letter because it does not begin the sentence. But in the second example, trees is written with an initial capital letter because it begins the sentence. So, a common noun is not written with an initial letter unless it begins a sentence.
II. Titles and ranks are common nouns if they do not accompany names. For example:
a. Did you see the inspector yesterday?
b. My favourite mentor is a teacher.
c. It was a doctor who treated the boy.
d. I hear a professor is visiting our school today.
e. I saw the king this morning.
f. That lady is very disciplined.
You notice that none of the titles underlined in the examples above is written with an initial capital letter. This is because the titles do not accompany names. They are considered common nouns and are therefore not written with an initial capital letter.
III. Most common nouns that refer to human beings and things have two forms (singular and plural). For example: boy – boys man – men bribe – bribes orange – oranges school – schools.
a. A noun simply means a word that names. It may be the name of a person, an animal, a place, a quality, a state, an activity, a process, a habit, or an idea.
b. A proper noun names a particular person, place, thing, idea, quality, and so on.
c. Mostly, a proper noun has only the singular form. It is spelt with an initial capital letter.
d. A common noun is a name that does not specify. It is not spelt with an initial capital letter unless it begins a sentence.
CONTENT CONSULTANTS Author
John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D.
Modestus Fosu, Ph.D.
Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.
William Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.