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1.1: What is a noun?

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    Definition: Noun

    Basic definition: A noun is a part of speech that denotes a person, place, thing, or idea

    What is a noun?

    Nouns are usually defined as people, places, things, or ideas.  There are many levels of complexity to nouns, but the basic definition is a good place to start.   Please watch the video below to learn more.




    Are the categories of nouns really an 'either--or' situation?

    Typically in grammar books, you will see categories for nouns as being:

    • common or proper
    • count or non-count
    • concrete or abstract

    Common or Proper

    Nouns labeled as common or proper is pretty cut and dried.  Nouns such as 'bikes', 'water', and 'air' are common nouns. These words are not capitalized (except at the start of a sentence).  They are not giving a specific name to a noun.  People, places, and things that are capitalized are proper nouns.  For example, 'Seattle', 'Rosa Parks', and the 'Mississippi River' are all proper nouns.  These nouns identify a single entity.  There is only one Mexico City.  There is only one Nile River.  There may be many people named John Green, but each John Green was named for their unique being.  

    Count or Non-Count

    The other two categories are bit more complicated. Let's take the categories of count or non-count.  What is a count noun?  Those are nouns that you can put numbers in front of.  For example,  1 cat, 5 cats.  1 goose 4 geese.  1 moose, 20 moose.  What is a non-count noun?  Those are nouns that you do not count.  For example, we don't usually say 1 rice.  Instead, we count the grains of rice.  The same with water.  We count ounces or glasses of water.  However, sometimes there are times that we do in fact count them.  

    Take pizza for example.  Sometimes we count pizza as in "Let's order 5 pizzas." But, often, we don't as in "I love pizza."  Compare that with "I love cats." See how I counted cats, but not pizza?  That tells us that the idea of pizza is a non-count noun. Now, let's this with try water.  "I drink a lot of water" (non-count) versus "We ordered five waters" (count).  Think about the times and spaces in which you say 'breads' instead of 'bread' or 'coffee' instead of 'coffees.'  There are probably some obvious contexts when you use the count form rather than the non-count form. 

    Language learners have a harder time identifying nouns as being count or non-count. Take 'advice' for an example.  In English, we say "Can you give me some advice?" or "Can you give me a piece of advice?"  I have had many English learners ask me "Can you give me some advices?"  There are also times that synonyms have different rules.  We count 'assignments' but not 'homework.'  Therefore, don't be surprised if you hear students say, "I had many homeworks last night."   

    Concrete or Abstract

    Concrete and abstract is another binary way to categorize nouns.  'Cats' are concrete.  We can see them.  We can touch them.  'President Biden' is concrete.  You can see him.  You can talk to him.  'Love' is abstract.  It is an idea.  Ideas tend to be abstract.  What about 'Santa Claus'?  The Santa Clauses in the malls are concrete.  Is the 'real' Santa just an abstract idea?  Previously, I said that love was abstract, but when someone bakes you a pie or gives you a hug, is that love becoming concrete?  We could get very philosophical.  But, let's not.  Instead, let's accept that depending on ones experience in the world, cultural contexts, and the purpose in using the noun, these categories can be a bit fluid.

    Sorting Activity 
    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Read the text below about Mexican geography.  Notice the bolded words.  Are they nouns or not nouns?  Place the words in the correct category.

    Middle School Geography Text

    The Tropic of Cancer cuts across Mexico, dividing it into two different climatic zones: a temperate zone to the north and a tropical zone to the south. In the northern temperate zone, temperatures can be hot in the summer, often rising above 80°F, but considerably cooler in the winter. By contrast, temperatures vary very little from season to season in the tropical zone, with average temperatures hovering very close to 80°F year-round. Temperatures in the south tend to vary as a function of elevation.

    Mexico is characterized by a great variety of climates, including areas with hot humid, temperate humid, and arid climates. There are mountainous regions, foothills, plateaus, deserts, and coastal plains, all with their own climatic conditions. For example, in the northern desert portions of the country, summer and winter temperatures are extreme. Temperatures in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts exceed 110 °F, while in the mountainous areas snow can be seen at higher elevations throughout the year.

    Two major mountain ranges extend north and south along Mexico’s coastlines and are actually extensions of southwestern US ranges. The Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental are roughly parallel to each other. The Sierra Madre Occidental, an extension of the Sierra Nevada range, is about 3,107 miles along the west coast, with peaks higher than 9,843 feet. The Sierra Madre Oriental is an extension of the Rocky Mountains and is 808 miles along the east coast.


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