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Using Nouns In English (All You Need To Know)

In this study guide, you will learn about different types of nouns, with examples of how to use them in a sentence. Check out the exercises at the end to test your understanding! You can also download this guide as a free pdf to use offline.

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What you will learn:


What are nouns?

Students are often taught that a noun is simply a ‘person, place or thing’. But what about ‘music’ or ‘laughter’ or ‘happiness’? They are nouns too, but they do not fit into these three categories. In fact, nouns can be abstract or concrete, countable or uncountable. In this guide, you will learn about different types of nouns and the grammatical rules for using them correctly.

A noun can function as the subject or object of a sentence.

For example:

article + noun + verb + preposition + article + noun

The cat sat on the mat

(subject + verb + object)

Nouns can be modified by adjectives, for example: ‘The fat cat sat on the red mat’. Nouns can also be preceded by determiners, such as a, the and an.

Grammar of nouns

1. Regular plurals

To make a noun plural in English, we just add ‘s’ to a singular noun, for example: a book, two books; a picture, some pictures. With some words, we need to change the spelling and add ‘es’ when making a noun plural, for example: a box, two boxes.

In words ending with ‘s’, the pronunciation of s is /s/ (e.g. books), but words ending in ‘rs’ are pronounced /z/ (e.g. cars). Words ending in ‘es’ are usually pronounced /Iz/ (e.g. buses).

2. Irregular plurals

Some words in English form an irregular plural. See the examples below:



There are nouns that have the same form in the singular and plural. For example, sheep and fish. So, we can say: ‘There is a sheep in the field’ or ‘There are some sheep in the field’.

Some words of Latin origin are not pluralised with ‘s’. For example: criteria, media, cactus/cacti, fungus/funghi.

3. Countable and uncountable nouns

Countable nouns form plurals, for example: two houses, three children. Uncountable nouns can literally ‘not be counted’. Therefore, they only have one form, e.g. some coffee, some information.

The difficulty for learners of English is that the rules for countable and uncountable nouns may be different in their own language. If so, then they may try to apply these rules in English, most often by adding an ‘s’ to an uncountable noun.

You can use specific words to itemise uncountable nouns, but you have to use the correct word for the object. For example: a loaf of bread, a spoonful of sugar, a piece of luggage.

Concrete nouns are usually uncountable when they do not have a physical form, or when they are liquids, for example: water, milk, sugar. We use specific words to itemise or count uncountable nouns. Examples include: a loaf of bread, a spoonful of sugar, a piece of chocolate.

Some words can be countable or uncountable in different situations, for example: some coffee (an amount of it), a coffee (a cup of it).

There are many other uncountable nouns that cause confusion because they may be countable in other languages. Examples include: furniture, information, money, rubbish, accommodation, advice and luggage.

‘Some’ can be placed in front of any of these nouns to suggest that there is a quantity of the item, but there is no indication of how much exactly. Some of these nouns can be itemised by using the phrase ‘a piece of’, e.g. a piece of luggage, a piece of furniture.

You should learn uncountable nouns in English to avoid making mistakes with them.

Examples in a sentence:

  • She gave him an important piece of advice.
  • We bought some new furniture for our flat.
  • She put the rubbish in the bin.
  • Have you go any money?
  • She spilt a drop of milk on the table.
4. Possessive nouns

Possessives in English are indicated by an apostrophe (‘). For a singular noun, this is straightforward, for example: Sue’s car or My dad’s office. The same rule applies to animals, for example: That is the dog’s bed.

Apostrophes are not normally used for objects. We use ‘of’ instead, for example: The name of the book not The book’s name. However, we sometimes use the structure ‘noun + noun’. So, for example, we would usually say The car door rather than The door of the car (very formal).

Apostrophes are used to show possession, but they are not normally used with objects. For example: The roof of the house not The house’s roof.

For plural nouns, the apostrophe is placed after the plural noun, e.g. The students’ work or The children’s mother. For singular nouns that end in ‘s’, we usually add ‘’s’, although the second ‘s’ can be omitted. For example: James’s book and James’ book are both correct.

Organisations that are formed of more than one person function in the same way as singular nouns, for example: The government’s policies, The team’s success.

5. Noun + noun

A noun can act as a modifier before another noun, for example: A flower shop (noun + noun). In this situation, the modifying noun acts like an adjective: flower (modifying noun) shop (noun).

The modifying noun in these cases tells us about the function of the object, i.e. a shop that sells flowers. In spoken English, the stress usually occurs on the first noun, so it is a flower shop not a flower shop.

When two nouns are frequently used together, they can be hyphenated (-) or joined to form a compound noun, e.g. part-time, footpath.

6. Noun phrases

noun phrase is a group of words that function as a noun in a sentence. A noun phrase is made up of a noun and modifiers. The modifiers can be placed before or after the noun.

The simplest form of a noun phrase consists of a determiner (a, the, an) plus a noun, e.g a dog. Noun phrases can be constructed in the form of determiner + adjective + noun, e.g a tall man.

Some noun phrases are more complex in their structure, e.g. the man with the blue hat. The following sentence contains two noun phrases: Our terrified cat ran away from the man with the barking dog.

7. Forming nouns

Nouns can be formed from other parts of speech, using a suffix (a word ending). This process is known as nominalisation. Most commonly, nouns are formed from verbs or adjectives.

This can create a more formal style, which is often used in scientific or academic writing. For example:

  • Scientists recorded what they observed when they investigated plants growing. (informal, not academic)
  • Scientists recorded their observations as part of their investigation into plant growth. (more formal and scientific)
Forming nouns from verbs
Forming nouns from adjectives

Different types of nouns

Different types of nouns

1. Common nouns

A common noun is an object or thing. Examples include: table, house, car, book, bicycle, computer, town. A common noun can be concrete or abstract. See the examples below.

2. Concrete nouns

A concrete noun is something that can be experienced through your five senses. It is something that you can see, hear, touch, taste or smell. Examples of concrete nouns are: garden, alarm, fur, cake, perfume.

Examples in a sentence:

  • I walked in the garden.
  • The sound of the bell woke me up.
  • The cat’s fur was very soft.
  • The cake tasted delicious.
  • She could smell the scent of the flowers in the evening.
3. Abstract nouns

Abstract nouns are the names of states, feelings or qualities. They do not have a physical form. Examples of abstract nouns include: fear, sadness, envy, happiness, freedom.

Examples in a sentence:

  • Happiness is hard to achieve.
  • He tried not to talk about his fear of spiders.
  • Above all, she valued her freedom.
  • Sometimes envy prevented him from being truly happy.
  • Most days she felt happy, but sometimes she was overwhelmed by sadness.
4. Proper nouns

A proper noun is a noun that is the name of a person or place. A proper noun always has a capital letter. Examples include: David, Mr Smith, Paris, London Bridge, New York, The Alps.

Examples in a sentence:

  • David was born in London.
  • Mr Smith had lived next door for 20 years.
  • I would love to visit Paris.
  • New York is an interesting city.
  • The Alps are the highest mountains in Europe. 
Remember to use a capital letter at the start of a proper noun, for example the name of a person (John), city (London) or country (England). 
5. Collective nouns

A collective noun refers to a group of people, animals or things. A collective noun can be treated as a singular or plural noun in a sentence. For example, the word ‘committee’ describes a group of people. We can say The committee has made a decision or The committed have made a decision.

There are some conventions for collective nouns. For example, ‘The Police’ usually acts as a plural noun: The police are looking for the suspect.

The following are collective nouns for groups of people: crowd, audience, class (of students), choir (group of singers), staff.

The following are collective nouns for groups of animals: flock (birds), herd (animals such as cows and sheep), shoal (fish).

The following are collective nouns for groups of things: crockery, cutlery, stationery.

Examples in a sentence:

  • The committee has decided to increase membership fees.
  • There was a big audience at the concert.
  • The herd of cows walked to towards me.
  • There is a lot of cutlery in this drawer.
  • A huge flock of bird landed on the grass.
6. Compound nouns

Compound nouns are formed of two or more words. In a sentence, they function as a noun. Many compound words are joined together, but some are written as two words and some are hyphenated. Handbag, father-in-law and coffee table are all examples of compound nouns.

Compound nouns can be joined, hyphenated or formed of two separate words. For example: Hot air balloon, whiteboard and lean-to are all compound nouns.

Compound nouns are commonly formed from noun + noun or adjective + noun, for example: sheepdog (noun + noun), greenhouse (adjective + noun).

The table below shows the most common ways of forming compound nouns:

FormCompound Noun
Adjective + nounGreenhouse
Noun + nounBus stop
Verb + nounWashing machine
Noun + verbSunrise
Verb + prepositionCheck-up
Preposition + nounUpstairs

Examples in a sentence:

  • She planted the tomatoes in the greenhouse.
  • I had to go to the dentist for a check-up.
  • My father-in-law is a friendly man.
  • Meet me at the bus stop in 5 minutes!
  • Are you buying a raincoat? No, I’m thinking of getting a sun hat. 


Nouns: Exercises

  1. Which one of the following is an irregular plural?
    a. Houses
    b. People
    c. Books
    d. Cars
  2. Which one is an uncountable noun?
    a. Book
    b. Information
    c. Flower
    d. Road
  3. Which one is incorrect?
    a. A loaf of bread
    b. A piece of paper
    c. A piece of cake
    d. A loaf of cheese
  4. Which one is incorrect?
    a. Some coffee
    b. Some advices
    c. Some books
    d. Some fish
  5. Which one of the following shows an incorrect use of a possessive?
    a. The boy’s books.
    b. The boys’ books.
    c. The boy’s books’.
    d. The boy’s book.
  6. What is an abstract noun?
    a. It describes a person.
    b. It is the name of a feeling or idea.
    c. It describes an object you can touch.
    d. It describes something you can taste, such as salt.
  7. Select the correct form of the word to complete the sentence.
    Our teacher gave us some _____________ .
    a. homework      b. home-work      c. home work
  8. What is the correct pronunciation of ‘houses’.
    a. /haʊzɪz/
    b. /haʊsɪz/
    c. /haʊsɪs/
    d. /haʊses/
  9. Which noun cannot complete this sentence? He gave her a piece of ________________.
    a. luggage    b. sugar    c. furniture
  10. Which sentence is incorrect?
    a. He drank some tea and ate some cakes.
    b. He drank a coffee and ate some cake.
    c. He drank a coffee and ate a bread.
  11. Which one the following is an abstract noun?
    a. Coffee
    b. Fear
    c. Water
    d. Paper
  12. How can a proper noun be recognised in a written text?
    a. It is always the subject of the sentence.
    b. It is always at the end of the sentence.
    c. It is always follows a verb.
    d. It has an initial capital letter.
  13. Which of one these collective nouns is incorrect?
    a. A herd of wolves.
    b. A flock of sheep.
    c. A flock of birds.
    d. A herd of cows.
  14. Which is the correct noun to complete the sentence? I went to the dentist to have my __________ cleaned.
    a. tooth      b. tooths       c. teeths      d. teeth
  15. Which collective noun does not describe a group of people?
    a. Crowd
    b. Audience
    c. Workplace
    d. Staff
  16. Which one of the following is not a compound noun?
    a. Sunflower
    b. Sun glasses
    c. Sun cat
    d. Sunshine
  17. Which one of the following compound nouns should be hyphenated (-)?
    a. Father in law
    b. Tooth brush
    c. White board
    d. Dining room
  18. Compound nouns are often formed with an adjective and a noun. Which one of the following is not formed with an adjective and a noun?
    a. Greenhouse
    b. Whiteboard
    c. Catfish
    d. Software
  19. Which sentence is incorrect?
    a. He ate some chocolate.
    b. He ate a chocolate.
    c. He ate a bar of chocolates.
    d. He ate a bar of chocolate.
  20. Which sentence is correct?
    a. The students’ read the children’s books.
    b. The students read the children’s books’.
    c. The students’ read the childrens books.
    d. The students read the children’s books.


  1. b people
  2. b. information
  3. d.
  4. b.
  5. c.
  6. b. It is the name of a feeling or idea.
  7. a. homework
  8. a.
  9. b. sugar
  10. c.
  11. b. fear
  12. d.
  13. a.
  14. d. teeth
  15. c. workplace
  16. c.
  17. a. father-in-law
  18. c. catfish
  19. c.
  20. d.
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Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Written by Judith P.
— ESL Tutor
Written by Judith P.
— ESL Tutor