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Nouns - Words That Name

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Let’s start with the noun. Here, you’ll learn about the nature of the noun and three of its main functions in our language: (1) subjects, (2) objects, and (3) complements. Then, in later sections, we’ll explore the 10 functions that nouns perform in the English language.

Let’s begin our detailed look at the eight parts of speech with the noun. I guess we all remember our school teacher’s definition, that is, if you went to school when teachers taught grammar: A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Good definition. Here’s another from The Random House Dictionary of the English Language:

Any member of a class of words that are formally distinguished . . . typically by the plural and possessive endings and that can function as the main or only elements of subjects or objects, as cat, belief, writing, Ohio, darkness. Nouns are often thought of as referring to persons, places, things, states, or qualities. Random House, p. 1327.

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That’s an interesting definition, and one you might use when trying to identify how a particular word is acting in your sentence. Can you make it plural? Can you add a possessive ending to it? If so (and the word isn’t a pronoun), you’ve got yourself a noun.

Try it out on darkness. Plural: darknesses? I guess one could experience several darknesses. Possessive: darkness’s? What might darkness possess? The darkness’s secrets? That, too, seems to work, even if it’s a bit of a stretch from everyday usage.

Another question will help you identify a word as a noun: Is the word capable of being possessed? Just put the word my or his or her before the word and see if the two make sense. Thus: my cat, my belief, my writing. So a noun not only can possess something else but can be possessed.

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You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.

 

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