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Types of Nouns

Proper nouns name specific persons or concepts. There are instances when nouns are used in a nonspecific way, when not referring to formal or proper nouns. Collective nouns refer to groups of collected nouns. These collective groupings demonstrate that nouns can be both singular or plural depending on use. The goal is to develop a better understanding of nouns and how they are used in sentences.

Proper Nouns

Nouns that name a specific person, place, thing, particular event, or group are called proper nouns and are always capitalized. If the noun is nonspecific, that is, the noun refers to a general idea and not a specific person, place, or thing, it is usually not a proper noun, so it is not capitalized.

SpecificNonspecific
Linda PearsonA woman
World War IIA war
French classA class
The Great DepressionAn era
The American Bar AssociationThe association
The Alan Parsons ProjectThe band

Collective Nouns

Nouns that refer to a specific group of persons or things are called collective nouns; see the list that follows.

groupclubteamcommitteecongress
juryswarmherdflocklegislature
classschoolcouplecitycongregation

Collective nouns are usually singular, except when referring to the individual members of a group.

  • Singular: The committee agrees with the recommendation. (In this sentence, the reference is to the committee as a whole, not the committee’s individual members.)
  • Individual members: The committee members agree with the recommendation. (In this sentence, we are referring to all the individual members of the group, not the committee as a whole.)

Also, some collective nouns are considered both singular and plural, depending on their use in a sentence. For instance:

  • Singular: The jury is deliberating.
  • Individual members: The jury took their seats.

Companies take a singular verb.

  • Kraft Foods manufactures more than eighty types of cheese.

Musical groups, on the other hand, take a plural verb.

  • The Police are releasing a new greatest hits CD.
  • The Wallflowers are playing at the concert hall tonight.

Count versus Noncount Nouns

Count nouns are nouns that represent individual countable items and cannot be seen as a mass or group. Count nouns have both singular and plural forms; their plural is usually formed by adding –s or –es to the end of the singular form. A few examples of count nouns include: an atom, two atoms; book, two books; watch; two watches; and a child, two children.

Noncount nouns represent abstract concepts, a collection, a group, or a mass and do not have an individual state of being. Many only have a singular form. Some of these nouns include:

furniturefungrammarhappinessjunk
mailnewstrafficengineeringadvice

Note that these nouns do not form plurals. Instead, articles, prepositions, and other modifiers are used to indicate an amount. For instance:

  • I need a single piece of advice.
  • I would like some advice.
  • I would like all the advice you have.

Noncount nouns take the singular demonstrative pronouns this and that; they never take the plural pronouns these and those.

  • Incorrect: Thank you for those advice.
  • Correct: Thank you for that advice.

Some words are both count and noncount, depending on their usage and the particular definition of the word you are using. Following are a few examples.

  • Noncount: Last night I ate fish. (It is incorrect to say “fishes” in this context.)
  • Count: There are seven species of fishes in this lake. (When speaking of specific species, fish takes the plural fishes, making it a count noun.)
  • Noncount: The windows have twelve panes of glass. (When referring to the material glass, no plural is used.)
  • Count: I washed all the glasses after the party. (When referring to something you drink out of, glass can take the plural form glasses.)
  • Noncount: Tracy has the experience needed for the job. (When referring to the abstract concept of experience, it does not take a plural.)
  • Count: Tracy has had many great experiences as a camp counselor. (When referring to specific incidents, experience can take the plural form experiences.)

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