Parts of Speech: Nouns: Prime-Time Players

Nouns: Prime-Time Players

A noun is a word that names a person, place, or thing. Nouns, like house guests, come in different varieties. House guests include those you want, those you hate, and those you're stuck with regardless. Nouns come in these varieties: common nouns, proper nouns, compound nouns, and collective nouns.

  1. Common nouns name any one of a class of person, place, or thing.
    • boy
    • city
    • food
  2. Proper nouns name a specific person, place, or thing.
    • Bob
    • New York City
    • Rice-a-Roni
  3. Compound nouns are two or more nouns that function as a single unit. A compound noun can be two individual words, words joined by a hyphen, or two words combined.
    • individual words: time capsule
    • hyphenated words: great-uncle
    • combined words: basketball
  4. Collective nouns name groups of people or things.
    • audience
    • family
    • herd
    • crowd
You Could Look It Up

A noun is a word that names a person, place, or thing.

Take a few seconds to catch your breath. Then underline the nouns in each of the following sentences.

  1. A hungry lion was roaming through the jungle looking for something to eat.
  2. He came across two men.
  3. One man was sitting under a tree and reading a book; the other man was typing away on his typewriter.
  4. The lion quickly pounced on the man reading the book and devoured him.
  5. Even the king of the jungle knows that readers digest and writers cramp.


  1. lion, jungle, something
  2. men
  3. man, tree, book, man, typewriter
  4. lion, man, book
  5. king, jungle, readers, writers

Possessive Nouns: 9/10 of the Law

Take My Word for It

The word noun comes from the Latin word nomen, which means “name.” Now, wouldn't that make a great pick-up line?

In life, possession shows success; in grammar, possession shows ownership. Follow these rules to create possessive nouns.

  1. With singular nouns, add an apostrophe and s.
    • girl: girl's manuscript
    • student: student's ideas
  2. With plural nouns ending in s, add an apostrophe after the s.
    • girls: girls' manuscript
    • students: students' ideas
  3. With plural nouns not ending in s, add an apostrophe and s.
    • women: women's books
    • mice: mice's tails

Possess It!

Reduce each of the following sentences to fewer words by using the possessive form. Doing so will improve your writing style. Here's an example:

Original: The comedy routines of the Three Stooges aren't funny to me.

Revised: The Three Stooges' comedy routines aren't funny to me.

  1. The original name of Mel Brooks was Melvin Kaminsky.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  2. The quack of a duck doesn't echo, and no one knows why.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  3. The placement of the eyes of a donkey in its head enables it to see all four feet at all times.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  4. The original name of Mickey Mouse was Mortimer Mouse.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  5. The real name of Hulk Hogan is Terry Bollea.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  6. The milk of a camel does not curdle.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  7. In Fantasia by Disney, the name of the Sorcerer is Yensid, which is Disney backward.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  8. The urine of a cat glows under a black light.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  9. The favorite hobby of my mother-in-law is playing cards with her computer.
    • ____________________________________________________________________
  10. Keep the boss of your boss off the back of your boss.
    • ____________________________________________________________________


  1. Mel Brooks' original name was Melvin Kaminsky.
  2. A duck's quack doesn't echo, and no one knows why.
  3. The placement of a donkey's eyes in its head enables it to see all four feet at all times.
  4. Mickey Mouse's original name was Mortimer Mouse.
  5. Hulk Hogan's real name is Terry Bollea.
  6. Camel's milk does not curdle.
  7. In Disney's Fantasia, the Sorcerer's name is Yensid, which is Disney backward.
  8. A cat's urine glows under a black light.
  9. My mother-in-law's favorite hobby is playing cards with her computer.
  10. Keep your boss's boss off your boss's back.

Plural Nouns: Two's Company, Three's a Crowd

Here are the guidelines for creating plural nouns.

  1. Add s to form the plural of most nouns.
    • boy: boys
    • girl: girls
    • computer: computers
  2. Add es if the noun ends in s, sh, ch, or x.
    • class: classes
    • wish: wishes
    • inch: inches
    • box: boxes
  3. If a noun ends in consonant -y, change the y to i and add es.
    • city: cities
    • lady: ladies
  4. If a noun ends in vowel -y, add s. Words ending in -quy don't follow this rule (as in soliloquies).
    • essay: essays
    • monkey: monkeys

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Before I overwhelm you with the rules, take a break and make each of the following singular words plural. Write your answer in the space provided.

Singular Plural
1. roach _____________
2. alto _____________
3. cameo _____________
4. lily _____________
5. sex _____________
6. cry _____________
7. potato _____________
8. kitten _____________
9. silo _____________
10. fez _____________

1. roaches 6. cries
2. altos 7. potatoes
3. cameos 8. kittens
4. lilies 9. silos
5. sexes 10. fezzes
  • 5. Add s to most nouns ending in f. However, the f endings are so irregular as to be nearly random. If you have any doubts at all, consult a dictionary.
  • Singular
  • Plural
  • brief
  • briefs
  • chief
  • chiefs
  • proof
  • proofs
  • Exceptions: In some cases, change the f to fe or v and add es:
  • Singular
  • Plural
  • self
  • selves
  • wolf
  • wolves
  • leaf
  • leaves
  • Exception: This rule doesn't hold for names. When you're dealing with names, just add s. Thus, Mr. and Mrs. Wolf becomes the Wolfs.
  • 6. In compound words, make the main word plural.
  • Singular
  • Plural
  • mother-in-law
  • mothers-in-law
  • passerby
  • passersby
  • sister-in-law
  • sisters-in-law
  • There are two exceptions. Here's the first: If there is no noun in the compound word, add s to the end of the word, as in these examples:
  • Singular
  • Plural
  • mix-up
  • mix-ups
  • takeoff
  • takeoffs
  • Here's the second: If the compound word ends in -ful, add s to the end of the word.
  • Singular
  • Plural
  • cupful
  • cupfuls
  • 7. Some nouns change their spelling when they become plural.
  • Singular
  • Plural
  • child
  • children
  • foot
  • feet
  • goose
  • geese
  • louse
  • lice
  • man
  • men
  • mouse
  • mice
  • ox
  • oxen
  • tooth
  • teeth
  • woman
  • women
  • 8. Some nouns have the same form whether they are singular or plural.
  • Singular
  • Plural
  • deer
  • deer
  • moose
  • moose
  • Portuguese
  • Portuguese
  • series
  • series
  • sheep
  • sheep
  • species
  • species
  • swine
  • swine
  • Like the word “Portuguese,” the names of other nationalities ending in -ese have the same singular and plural form.
  • 9. The only plurals formed with apostrophes are the plurals of numbers, letters, and words highlighted as words. Here are some examples:
  • How many 3's make 9?
  • Be sure to mind your p's and q's.
  • 10. Some words from other languages form plurals in other ways, often determined by the laws of the language of their origin. Here are some examples:
  • Singular
  • Plural
  • analysis
  • analyses
  • axis
  • axes
  • bacterium
  • bacteria
  • index
  • indices
  • parenthesis
  • parentheses

Combo Platter

Make each of the following words plural.

Singular Plural
1. spoonful ______________
2. sheriff ______________
3. Vietnamese ______________
4. chief ______________
5. moose ______________
6. axis ______________
7. wolf ______________
8. criterion ______________
9. stimulus ______________
10. basis ______________

1. spoonfuls6. axes
2. sheriffs7. wolves
3. Vietnamese8. criteria
4. chiefs9. stimuli
5. moose10. bases

A Note on Nouns for Non-Native Speakers

Nouns sometimes take the definite article the. Follow these rules:

  1. Use the with specific singular and plural nouns.
    • I need the hammer and the nails.
    • I need the tools.
  2. Use the with one-of-a-kind objects.
    • Look at the sun!
    • This is the last cupcake.
  3. Use the with the names of oceans, seas, rivers, deserts.
    • the Atlantic Ocean
    • the Sahara Desert
  4. Use the with the names of colleges and universities containing the word of.
    • She studied at the University of New Mexico.

At other times, nouns do not take the definite article the.

Do not use the with the names of people, general positions, continents, states, cities, streets, religious place names, titles of officials, fields of study, names of diseases, and names of magazines and newspapers (unless it is part of the title).

  • George Bush, not the George Bush
  • Europe, not the Europe
  • New Jersey, not the New Jersey
  • Main Street, not the Main Street
  • heaven, not the heaven
  • Queen Mary, not the Queen Mary
  • chemistry, not the chemistry
  • cancer, not the cancer
  • Newsweek, not the Newsweek
  • The New Yorker (part of title)
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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