Nouns

This group of words includes "pronouns" and "adjectives". A noun is, simply, the name of a thing. But things are not as simple as this suggests. There are four classes of nouns. A common noun is a name shared by everything of the same kind. Thus "ocean", "man" and "lady" are all examples of common nouns.

A proper noun is the name of a particular person, place or thing. "Leslie", "France" and "Mississippi" are all proper nouns. When written they begin with a capital or upper case first letter.

Abstract nouns are the names of qualities, states or actions. "sweetness", "illness" and "departure" are all abstract nouns.

Collective nouns refer to groups of things. "team", "herd" and "crowd" are examples of collective nouns.

In English nouns do not themselves have grammatical gender. All nouns which refer to males are masculine and all that refer to females are feminine. All others are neuter. A feminine noun can be formed in three ways. A syllable may be added to the masculine noun. Thus the feminine noun corresponding to the masculine "baron" is "baroness". The feminine of hero is heroine and of executor is executrix. Some feminine forms are achieved by adding a prefix to the masculine noun. The feminine "servant" is a "maid-servant" and of "goat" is "she-goat". In other cases a completely new word is used. The feminine of "boar" is "sow", of "stag" is "hind" and of "king" is "queen".

There are complications to this apparently simple order of things. The animals have gender but are often referred to by the word "it" which does not specify masculinity or femininity. Thus we often refer to a cat, a dog or a horse as "it", Some neuter nouns are afforded gender in common usage. A sailor refers to his ship as "she". Other nouns which clearly have a specific gender are used for either or both genders. A "pupil", "parent" or "teacher" may be male or female but there is not a gender-specific word for these.

The plural of a noun is used when more than one is to be mentioned. There are some half a dozen ways of forming the plural form of nouns. The most common way to form the plural of a noun is to add and "s". Thus "horse" becomes "horses", "boy" becomes "boys" and "chair" becomes "chairs". Some words demand the addition of "es". "Fish" becomes "fishes", "church" becomes "churches" and potato becomes potatoes in the plural form. In other cases changes must be made to the end of the singular noun before the plural suffix can be added. Nouns ending in "y" preceded by a consonant must have this final letter changes to "i" before the "es" is added. We then get for "lady" the form "ladies" and for "pony" ponies. Nouns ending in "f" have this letter changed to "v" before the "es" is added to form the plural as in "knife" which becomes "knives". Still other words have vowel changes to form the plural as in "man" which becomes "men", "foot" "feet" and "goose" "geese". Occasionally "en" is added. Thus the plural form of "ox" is "oxen". With an inserted "r" this is also the case for "child" which in the plural form is "children". Many foreign nouns used in English retain their foreign plural forms. "Stratum" becomes "Strata", "index" "indices" and "radius" "radii". Finally some words are both singular and plural. Examples of such nouns are "sheep", "deer" and "swine". There are other peculiarities with respect to the plural form of some nouns but knowledge of the foregoing will be sufficient for the needs of this simple and elementary course.

Another important aspect of nouns is "case". A noun (or a pronoun) may be at one time the subject and at another the object of a transitive verb. To express this and other relations use is made of what is called "case". Case is the relation of the noun or pronoun to some other word in a sentence sometimes expressed by a change of form. There are some six cases but we shall be concerned here with just one, The "genitive" or "possessive" case concerns a facility that is unique to the English language. Many languages have a genitive case. Strictly English does not but it does have a possessive ending. This is in the form of the "apostrophe s" ('s). This denotes the situation of the noun when it stands for a thing to which something else belongs or with which it is connected. As usual examples will help. Consider the three following sentences:

  1. Mary's brother has left.
  2. Brian's clock is broken
  3. The president's death has been reported
There is no doubt but that the clock belongs to Brian. However, the first sentence does not mean that the brother is owned by Mary and in the third sentence the death is not owned by the president. Although the genitive case is often called the possessive case this term is misleading. It is the situation that the possessive case is the important one so far as we are concerned here. In general to indicate possession an "'s" is added to the singular noun. Just the "'" is added if the noun ends in "s". The "'s" may be added to plural forms of the noun not ending in an "s". When the noun ends in a sibilant, whether by virtue of an "s" or something else then just the "'" is added or the "'s" is added and a extra syllable is also added. So we can say "Moses' Law but we would add an extra syllable to say St. James's Street. Where a number of nouns are taken together only the last would take the "'s". Thus we would say the Chairman of the Committee's report. The genitive case is often expressed with the help of a preposition. We can say the "sound of the trumpet" because the idea of the instrument having ownership of the sound is strange. In many languages it is only in this way that possession can be indicated.

This discourse on nouns could be much longer and go into far greater detail about matters connected with nouns which have not been mentioned here. Anything further would be beyond the scope of a grammar primer and is unnecessary at this stage.

Grammar

Sentences

Nouns

Pronouns

Adjectives

Verbs

Adverbs

Prepositions

Conjunctions

Interjections

Punctuation

A SHORT ENGLISH GRAMMAR

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