Skip to Local Navigation
Skip to Content
California State University, Long Beach
English Department banner
Print this pageAdd this page to your favoritesSelect a font sizeSelect a small fontSelect a medium fontSelect a large font


Download version Adobe pdf Icon


A noun is a person, place, or thing, and often becomes the subject or object of a sentence. When a noun acts as the subject, it performs the action in the sentence.  On the other hand, when a noun acts as the object, it receives the action in the sentence. Nouns have specific classifications, and they can be either singular or plural.

Proper Nouns and Common Nouns

Proper nouns name particular people, places, or things, and thus are usually capitalized. Common nouns name non-specific people, places, or things. For example, Sally is a noun that names a specific person. Sally is also a girl, yet girl does not specifically name who Sally is. Proper nouns also stand alone in a sentence without the use of a determiner, whereas common nouns often require a determiner’s assistance. You would not say, for example, “The Sally drank coffee,” but you could say, “The girl drank coffee.” Review additional handouts for more information on when to use articles and determiners.

Proper Noun = Max

Common Noun = dog

Proper Noun = May

Common Noun = month

Concrete Nouns and Abstract Nouns

Concrete nouns name things that can be tasted, touched, seen, heard, or smelled. In other words, these nouns can be experienced with one or more of the five senses. Abstract nouns name concepts, beliefs, ideas, or qualities. Pizza is something that can be touched, seen, tasted, and smelled; therefore, pizza is a concrete noun. Feminism cannot be experienced by any of the senses, so feminism is an abstract noun.

Concrete Nouns = cell phone, basketball, pencil

Abstract Nouns = harmony, bravery, sadness

Count and Non-Count Nouns

Count nouns are nouns that can be counted (five students, three papers, nine desks); non-count nouns are nouns that cannot be counted (beauty, information, homework, happiness). Simply put, non-count nouns cannot be made plural by adding an –s to the end of the word, and only have a singular form.

Note:  you’ll notice that some non-count nouns are also abstract such as beauty and happiness above.

Confusing Nouns

It’s important to know whether a noun (the antecedent) is plural or singular so that the following noun (the pronoun) matches it. This can often get confusing as some nouns are singular but can easily be mistaken for plural nouns. Thus, the pronouns that follow them must be in the singular form (it, her/him, etc.). Below is a list of nouns that are singular but commonly mistaken for plural nouns.


each one








no one



the group/team

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns name a group of something, which in most cases happen to be people. For example, team is a collective noun that is comprised of a group of people who play the same sport or work together as a group. Other examples of collective nouns are family, class, faculty, and public.

Style Matters:

Understanding the difference between the types of nouns will also help you understand other elements of sentence structure, like when to use articles. Look at your own writing and try circling all the nouns in one paragraph. Are all the proper nouns capitalized? Can you tell the difference between a concrete noun and an abstract noun?

Copyright (C) 2010. All rights reserved.
This handout is part of a library of instructional materials used in California State University, Long Beach’s writing center, the Writer’s Resource Lab. Educators and students are welcome to distribute copies as long as they do so with attribution to all organizations and authors. Commercial distribution is prohibited.

    (562) 985-4329

    The WRL is open for tutoring Monday-Thursday from 10 AM to 8 PM and Fridays 10AM-1PM Call or come in to make your appointment.