A noun, or noun substantive, is a word or phrase that refers to a person, place, thing, event, substance or quality. Nouns are parts of speech and can be classified in different ways such as proper nouns (e.g. "Janet") versus common nouns (e.g. "girl"), or collective nouns (e.g. "bunch", "herd"). Nouns can be substituted by pronouns (e.g. "she" and "which"). The word noun derives from Latin nomen meaning "name" (as a noun can be considered an object, person, or concept's name).
Further classifications include the distinction between concrete nouns and abstract nouns. Concrete nouns refer to definite objects (e.g. chair, apple, Janet) and abstract nouns refer to ideas or concepts (e.g. justice, liberty). While sometimes useful, the boundaries between these two are not always clear.
In sentences, nouns occur in several different ways, the most common being as subjects (performers of action), or objects (recipients of action). In the sentence "John wrote me a letter", "John" is a subject; "me" and "letter" are objects (of which "letter" is a noun and "me" a pronoun).
Proper nouns (also called proper names) are names and denote unique entities.
The meaning of a proper noun, outside of what it references, is frequently arbitrary or irrelevant (for example, someone might be named Tiger Smith despite being neither a tiger nor a smith). Because of this, they are usually not translated between languages, although they may be transliterated--for example, the German surname "Knödel" becomes "Knoedel" in English, as opposed to "Dumpling". (However, a common exception individually practiced by some immigrants intent on assimilating themselves into American culture has been to translate, or nearly translate, a surname, and/or to adopt a related English given name; a Heinrich Müller adopting "Henry Miller" would be typical of both.)
Proper nouns are capitalized in English and most or all other languages that use the Latin alphabet; this is one easy way to recognize them. (This fails, however, in German, in which nouns of all types are capitalized.) Other words that are often or always capitalized in English include:
- trademarks (e.g. Microsoft and Pepsi),
- names of species of animals and plants are widely, though not universally, capitalised (e.g. Peregrine Falcon, Red Pine) and
- words derived from proper nouns (e.g. Aristotelian and "Canadian", but not "chauvinism" and "quixotic").
This "proper non-noun" phenomenon of English is by no means a universal trait of languages: it does not occur in Romance languages, nor, despite their common Germanic roots, in German. Another capitalization anomaly in English is the word "I"; it could logically be construed as a proper name referring to a unique object, even though it is a pronoun normally used by anyone who speaks of themselves.
Sometimes the same word can appear as both a common noun and a proper noun, where one such entity is special; for example:
A mass noun is a type of common noun that represents a substance not easily quantified by a number. Mass nouns do not require limiting modifiers ("an", "two", "several", "many", etc.) and are not normally pluralized. Examples from English include "cheese", "laughter", and "precision".
- Janet is the name of a girl.
- Whistling off-key is annoying to me, but not to everybody.
- Cleanliness is next to godliness.
- The World Wide Web has become the least expensive way to publish information.
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noun.org is a poetry project online since 1998.