Thursday, November 8, 2007

Back to Basics: Nouns

As I lay in bed last night, I realized that I haven’t specifically addressed basic grammar concepts. I mention fundamental concepts often when I’m talking about the passive voice and distinguishing between commonly misused words but I haven’t defined any basic terms.

Thus I am starting a series on grammar basics. I’ll cover parts of speech and punctuation. I will post two or three parts each week until I run out of ideas or I feel like I’ve covered the requirements for following the more complicated issues.

With that in mind, today I am focusing on nouns. They (or their stand-ins, pronouns) are one of the two necessary ingredients in any sentence, whether implied or stated. As far as I know, in English you can’t write a grammatically correct sentence any shorter than, “Go!” The implied “you” acts as the subject.

In essence, nouns are people, places, or things. Abstract concepts count as things, which confused me as a child. Thus “child” can be a noun, as can “freedom”. Grammar is confusing because many words act as other parts of speech, depending on their context.

You use nouns as subjects or the objects of phrases or actions. You also use nouns as appositives, words set off in commas that give more information about another word. Let’s consider the sentence, “Bob, our coach, left the field.”

We find three nouns in this sentence: Bob, coach, and field. Bob is the subject of the sentence, coach is an appositive explaining who or what Bob is, and the field is the object of the verb explaining what location Bob left.

You capitalize a proper noun to indicate that it is the name of a particular thing. You can talk about mayors of towns in general, but Mayor Smith runs Blankville. You may write on famous towers, such as the Tower of London. Capitalizing the name indicates that you mean a specific one, rather than just any ol’ tower.

You can also use nouns to show possession. In “Bob’s coach, Fred, left the field,” Bob has moved from being the coach to possessing the coach (in a general, member-of-the-team way rather than some sort of kinky way like you people are thinking. Shame on you.)

If I’ve missed a basic noun concept, please leave me a comment to remind me of it. If what I’ve written is not clear, please let me know. I would hate to blather on without explaining a thing. Thanks.




I just found your blog and I think it's a great idea/service. I have many friends that have no idea when to use possession, commas, or just about any other grammar related punctuation; thinking of a creative way to link them to here without pissing them off. ;)



Thank you! I hope that this format allows people to get interested in grammar and start learning ways to communicate better.



I have trouble with English because the authors of books and post add in useless information to the explanation . It is less confusing if you write the definition more like a math problem. Such as 2+2=4 or in this case

Noun- Person, Place or Thing.

Short simple answers make learning English much easier. Also try to avoid using other English terms in the definition it makes it confusing to learn basic terms.



Part of the reason all of that "useless" information comes along is that nouns are more than simply a person, place, or thing. Certainly there is something to be said for keeping it simple but not being able to identify a noun like freedom or grace limits your ability to understand the language.

I tried to explain what the terms meant in my examples. If there's something on which you're unclear I would be happy to improve both my post and your understanding. Please let me know!