What Is A Noun?

In primary and high schools, we were taught that a noun is a name of person, animal, place or thing. Well, this definition is not wrong but to an extent, it is limited because a noun is not just the name of a person, animal place or thing. A noun is a word class/part of speech that is used for naming. It is used to name places, ideas, emotions, things, objects etc. Just name anything and you will get a noun.

Types/Classes of Nouns
Nouns are classified into two:Proper and Common Nouns. Common nouns are further classified into: Countable and Uncountable(Mass) nouns. Countable and Uncountable nouns are further classified into: Concrete and Abstract nouns.

Now let's explain them one by one:

Proper Nouns
Proper nouns are:
  • Names of persons including their titles, e.g. Mr Tammy Reuben, Dr Ezekiel Israel etc.
  • Names of places like countries, cities, towns, villages etc.
  • Days of the week, months of the year, dates of holidays like democracy day, Christmas day, easter etc.
  • Names of institutions, e.g.The Niger Delta University, The Nigerian Army, Olu Model Schools etc.
  • Names of newspapers and magazines, e.g. The Punch Newspaper, The Guidian Newspaper etc.
  • Titles of books, e.g. Intensive English, Standard Literature in English etc.
  • Names of rivers, e.g. The River Nun, The River Niger etc.
  • Names of lakes, e.g Lake Chad etc.
Features of Proper Nouns
  • Proper nouns are written with initial capital letters, e.g. Mr Tammy Reuben, Lagos, Olu Model Schools etc.
  • Proper nouns do not take plural forms except in few cases in order to show instances. e.g. Sundays are my rest days. Here is an instance of the day of the week called Sunday.
  • Proper nouns do not take determiners/articles(the, a/an). However, there are instances where proper nouns can occur with determiners or/and with the plural marker, 's'
  • Don't mind him, he is an Abacha
  • Is there a Judas in this class?
  • The Tamunos are visiting us to night.
Proper nouns like names of mountains, institutions, rivers, newspapers occur with an obligatory determiner/article. e.g. The Mount Everest, The University of Port Harcourt, The River Nun, The Punch etc. If these proper nouns are written or spoken without a determiner, it is unacceptable in English.

Common Nouns
Common nouns are words used to make general items rather than specific ones. Common nouns may occur with limiting modifiers like: a/an, some, every & my. As general rule, a common noun does not begin with an initial capital letter unless it appears at the start of a sentence. Examples of common nouns are: television, book, radio, chair, dog, window, pen etc.

Countable Nouns
Countable nouns are things we can count. Countable nouns can be singular or plural, thus we can say, 'one apple', 'two apples.' We can use 'a' or 'an' with singular countable nouns. e.g. an orange, a pencil.
One cannot use singular nouns alone without 'a' or 'an' or 'the'.
I need apple. (Wrong)
I need an apple. (Right)

However, one can use Plural countable nouns alone. e.g. I need mangoes.
'Some', 'any', 'many', 'few' can be used with plural countable nouns. e.g. some books, any hotel, many chairs, few bowls etc.

Uncountable/Mass Nouns
Uncountable nouns are things we cannot count. An uncountable noun does not change its form. For example, we can only say 'sand' and not 'two sands.'
We cannot use 'a/an' with uncountable nouns but can only add 'partitives' to uncountable nouns in order to make them countable.
A piece of information.
A plate of rice.
A bucket of water.
A bag of rice.
A sheet of paper.
Partitives  are expressions used to make an uncountable noun, countable. You can see them in the examples above.

We can use uncountable nouns alone without 'the', 'my', 'some' etc. e.g. we eat rice every morning.
We can use 'some' and 'many' with uncountable nouns.
You can buy any apple juice. 
Please, I need some rice. 

We can also use 'much' and 'little' with uncountable nouns.
I didn't do much work today.
There is little rice left in the pot.

Under uncountable/mass noun, we have:
1.Concrete uncountable nouns
2. Abstract uncountable nouns.

Concrete uncountable nouns are things that we can see and touch but cannot count them, e.g. water, oil, wheat, rice, blood, wood, sand etc.

On other hand, abstract uncountable nouns are the names given to things that cannot be touched or seen or counted, e.g. friendship, love, wisdom, loyalty, hatred, smell, beauty, stupidity etc.

It is important to note that some uncountable nouns have the -s morpheme at the end, e.g. waters, papers, works, sands, peoples but doesn't make them countable as they are being in different context.
Now let's see some sentences:
1. The River Niger empties its waters into the Atlantic.
In the sentence above, you are referring to a body of water and not as a countable noun.

2. The professor has several papers published in international journals.
When we say papers, we are not referring to it as a substance.

3. The peoples of the Niger Delta are: Ijaws, Itshekiri etc.
We use peoples when referring to ethnic nationalities.

4. The works of Chinue Achebe has been translated into more than fifty languages.
You use works when you are referring to the artistic input of a person. In terms of works, we also have Engineering works or Ministry of works.

5. We also have an expression which has a connotative meaning: The sands of time. For example, Emeka was able to survive the sands of time. In this case, 'sand' is  not referred to as a substance.

6. You also have salts in chemistry.

It is important to note the -s morpheme added to these uncountable nouns doesn't make them countable.

Other types of nouns are: Collective nouns, compound nouns and foreign nouns.

Collective nouns
Collective nouns are names given to group of things or people. They don't usually take plural forms. 
Flock of sheep
Committee of friends.
Host of Angels.
Gang of thieves.
Library of books
Bunch of keys.
Fleet of cars etc.

Compound Nouns
Compound nouns comprises two words. Examples are: mothers in-law, passers by, Women doctors, Major General etc.

Foreign noun:
You can read about foreign nouns here.

Tamuno Reuben

Those who seek knowledge seek power because the pen is mightier than the sword.

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