What are Nouns?

Nouns are words that name people, places, things, and ideas. The main types of nouns are common, proper, count, and noncount.

Types of Nouns

Common nouns are not capitalized (e.g., house, dog, integrity).

Proper nouns, however, are capitalized because they are names of specific people, places, and events (e.g., George Washington, Texas, The White House, Labor Day).

Count nouns are common nouns that can be counted (e.g., one car, two cars) and usually have singular and plural forms (e.g., car, cars, dog, dogs). Count nouns are easy to identify because you can put an article (i.e., a, an, the) in front of them. For more information on using articles, see the Stone Writing Center’s (SWC) Adjectives handout.

Example: A car was too expensive for us to buy.
The article a indicates a singular car.

Example: Two cars were on sale at the dealership.
The number two indicates a plural noun. Cars is the plural form of the noun car.

Noncount nouns cannot be counted, including certain things or objects (e.g., milk, water) and ideas or concepts (e.g., integrity, decency, love, anger). Noncount nouns are also sometimes called mass nouns. Usually, you cannot put an article in front of noncount nouns, but there are exceptions depending on the context of the sentence.

Example: Milk is good for you.
Notice that the noun milk does not have an article before it.

Example: The milk was expensive.
This sentence demonstrates another example of a noncount noun with the article the before it. In this case, the indicates a specific milk.

What Do Nouns Do?

In a sentence, nouns function as subjects and objects, such as direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions.

The subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea which is doing or being something.

Example: The dog ran away.
The dog is the subject and ran is the verb that the subject did.

Example: The judge’s integrity was well-known.
The judge’s integrity is the subject and was is the verb. The adjective well-known indicates what the subject noun integrity was being.

Example: Texas is a big state.
Texas is the proper noun subject and is is the verb, which indicates big is what Texas is being.

Example: The leftovers went bad.
The leftovers are the noun subject and went is the verb, which indicates what the leftovers did.

Direct objects directly receive action from verbs. In other words, the verb does something to the noun.

Example: The officer caught the dog.
The dog receives the action from the verb caught; the sentence tells readers what the officer did to the dog.

Example: The man ate the leftovers anyway.
The leftovers receive the action from the verb ate; the sentence tells readers what the man did to the leftovers.

Indirect objects receive action indirectly. When considering direct and indirect objects in a sentence, the verb does something to the direct object for the indirect object.

Example: The officer gave the owner her dog.
The dog receives the action and is given to its owner. The sentence tells readers what the officer did to the dog, the direct object, for its owner, the indirect object.

An object of a preposition is a noun or pronoun that follows a preposition, and the combination of preposition and object of preposition is called a prepositional phrase. For more information on pronouns or prepositions, see the SWC’s handouts.

Example: I left my keys on the table.
The table is the object of the preposition on, and the prepositional phrase on the table tells readers where the keys are.

Example: We are going to dinner after the show.
The show is the object of the preposition after, and the prepositional phrase after the show tells readers when we are going to dinner.
Note: In addition to acting as a preposition, after can also function as a conjunctive adverb. For more information, see the SWC’s Adverbs handout.

Note: There are also words called gerunds and infinitives, which can function as nouns and are types of verbals. The SWC’s handout on verbals covers this topic in detail.

Page last updated July 10, 2023.