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GRAMMAR TIP: The Fundamentals of Nouns

Parts of speech serve our communication needs with hardly a conscious thought on our part, but they operate according to a complex, interdependent set of rules. Here are some of the basic principles of the noun.

A noun is traditionally described as a person, place, or thing. Nouns are also divided into proper nouns and common nouns. Proper nouns refer to a specifically named entity such as a person named Tre, a place called California, a thing called an iPhone, and an idea or quality personified as Perfection. Common nouns, by contrast, are generic: man, state, phone, perfection.

Three other classifications to distinguish nouns include countable and uncountable nouns, collective nouns, and concrete and abstract nouns. Countable nouns can be pluralized (word, words), can be accompanied by numbers or quantifiers (“Did he say, ‘seven words’ or ‘several words’?), and can appear after an indefinite article (“In a word, yes”).

Uncountable nouns share none of these qualities; examples include: anger, geology, and weather. (Anger cannot be pluralized to angers, you would not say “seven geologies,” and weather would be preceded by ‘a’ only if it is used as an adjective, as in “a weather system”).

Collective nouns are those denoting a single entity consisting of multiple components such as team. Concrete nouns are those that name a physical entity or something experienced by one or more senses (computer, article), while abstract ones refer to concepts or ideas (democracy, liberty).

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