A noun (from Latin nōmen, literally meaning "name")[1] is a word that functions as the name of some specific thing or set of things, such as living creatures, objects, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas.[2][note 1] However, noun is not a semantic category, so that it cannot be characterized in terms of its meaning. Thus, actions and states of existence can also be expressed by verbs, qualities by adjectives, and places by adverbs. Linguistically, a noun is a member of a large, open part of speech whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition.[3]

Lexical categories (parts of speech) are defined in terms of the ways in which their members combine with other kinds of expressions. The syntactic rules for nouns differ from language to language. In English, nouns are those words which can occur with articles and attributive adjectives and can function as the head of a noun phrase.

  • The cat sat on the mat.
  • Please hand in your assignments by the end of the week.
  • Cleanliness is next to godliness.
  • Plato was an influential philosopher in ancient Greece.
  • Revel the night, rob, murder, and commit/The oldest sins the newest kind of ways? Henry IV Part 2, act 4 scene 5

A noun can co-occur with an article or an attributive adjective. Verbs and adjectives cannot. In the following, an asterisk (*) in front of an example means that this example is ungrammatical.

  1. the name (name is a noun: can co-occur with a definite article the.)
  2. *the baptise (baptise is a verb: cannot co-occur with a definite article.)
  3. constant circulation (circulation is a noun: can co-occur with the attributive adjective constant.)
  4. *constant circulate (circulate is a verb: cannot co-occur with the attributive adjective constant.)
  5. a fright (fright is a noun: can co-occur with the indefinite article a.)
  6. *an afraid (afraid is an adjective: cannot co-occur with the article a.)
  7. terrible fright (The noun fright can co-occur with the adjective terrible.)
  8. *terrible afraid (The adjective afraid cannot co-occur with the adjective terrible.)


Word classes (parts of speech) were described by Sanskrit grammarians from at least the 5th century BC. In Yāska's Nirukta, the noun (nāma) is one of the four main categories of words defined.[4]

The Ancient Greek equivalent was ónoma (ὄνομα), referred to by Plato in the Cratylus dialog, and later listed as one of the eight parts of speech in The Art of Grammar, attributed to Dionysius Thrax (2nd century BC). The term used in Latin grammar was nōmen. All of these terms for "noun" were also words meaning "name".[5] The English word noun is derived from the Latin term, through the Anglo-Norman noun.

The word classes were defined partly by the grammatical forms that they take. In Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, for example, nouns are categorized by gender and inflected for case and number. Because adjectives share these three grammatical categories, adjectives are placed in the same class as nouns.

Similarly, the Latin nōmen includes both nouns (substantives) and adjectives, as originally did the English word noun, the two types being distinguished as nouns substantive and nouns adjective (or substantive nouns and adjective nouns, or short substantives and adjectives). (The word nominal is now sometimes used to denote a class that includes both nouns and adjectives.)

Many European languages use a cognate of the word substantive as the basic term for noun (for example, Spanish sustantivo, "noun"). Nouns in the dictionaries of such languages are demarked by the abbreviation s. or sb. instead of n., which may be used for proper nouns or neuter nouns instead. In English, some modern authors use the word substantive to refer to a class that includes both nouns (single words) and noun phrases (multiword units, also called noun equivalents).[6] It can also be used as a counterpart to attributive when distinguishing between a noun being used as the head (main word) of a noun phrase and a noun being used as a noun adjunct. For example, the noun knee can be said to be used substantively in my knee hurts, but attributively in the patient needed knee replacement.


Nouns have sometimes been defined in terms of the grammatical categories to which they are subject (classed by gender, inflected for case and number). Such definitions tend to be language-specific, since nouns do not have the same categories in all languages.

Nouns are frequently defined, particularly in informal contexts, in terms of their semantic properties (their meanings). Nouns are described as words that refer to a person, place, thing, event, substance, quality, quantity, etc. However this type of definition has been criticized by contemporary linguists as being uninformative.[7]

There have been offered several examples of English-language nouns which do not have any reference: drought, enjoyment, finesse, behalf (as found in on behalf of), dint (in dint of), and sake (for the sake of).[8][9][10] Moreover, there may be a relationship similar to reference in the case of other parts of speech: the verbs to rain or to mother; many adjectives, like red; and there is little difference between the adverb gleefully and the noun-based phrase with glee.[note 2]

There are placeholder names, such as the legal fiction reasonable person (whose existence is not in question), an experimental artifact, or personifications such as gremlin.

Linguists often prefer to define nouns (and other lexical categories) in terms of their formal properties. These include morphological information, such as what prefixes or suffixes they take, and also their syntax – how they combine with other words and expressions of particular types. Such definitions may nonetheless still be language-specific, since syntax as well as morphology varies between languages. For example, in English it might be noted that nouns are words that can co-occur with definite articles (as stated at the start of this article), but this would not apply in Russian, which has no definite articles.

There have been several attempts, sometimes controversial, to produce a stricter definition of nouns on a semantic basis. Some of these are referenced in the § Further reading section below.


In some languages, genders are assigned to nouns, such as masculine, feminine and neuter. The gender of a noun (as well as its number and case, where applicable) will often entail agreement in words that modify or are related to it. For example, in French, the singular form of the definite article is le with masculine nouns and la with feminines; adjectives and certain verb forms also change (with the addition of -e with feminines). Grammatical gender often correlates with the form of the noun and the inflection pattern it follows; for example, in both Italian and Russian most nouns ending -a are feminine. Gender can also correlate with the sex of the noun's referent, particularly in the case of nouns denoting people (and sometimes animals). Nouns arguably do not have gender in Modern English, although many of them denote people or animals of a specific sex (or social gender), and pronouns that refer to nouns must take the appropriate gender for that noun. (The girl lost her spectacles.)


Proper nouns and common nouns

A proper noun or proper name is a noun representing unique entities (such as India, Pegasus, Jupiter, "Kaumarya saurav", Confucius, or Pequod), as distinguished from common nouns which describe a class of entities (such as country, animal, planet, person or ship).[11]

Countable and uncountable nouns

Count nouns or countable nouns are common nouns that can take a plural, can combine with numerals or counting quantifiers (e.g., one, two, several, every, most), and can take an indefinite article such as a or an (in languages which have such articles). Examples of count nouns are chair, nose, and occasion.

Mass nouns or uncountable (or non-count) nouns differ from count nouns in precisely that respect: they cannot take plurals or combine with number words or the above type of quantifiers. For example, it is not possible to refer to a furniture or three furnitures. This is true even though the pieces of furniture comprising furniture could be counted. Thus the distinction between mass and count nouns should not be made in terms of what sorts of things the nouns refer to, but rather in terms of how the nouns present these entities.[12][13]

Many nouns have both countable and uncountable uses; for example, soda is countable in "give me three sodas", but uncountable in "he likes soda".

Collective nouns

Collective nouns are nouns that – even when they are inflected for the singular – refer to groups consisting of more than one individual or entity. Examples include committee, government, and police. In English these nouns may be followed by a singular or a plural verb and referred to by a singular or plural pronoun, the singular being generally preferred when referring to the body as a unit and the plural often being preferred, especially in British English, when emphasizing the individual members.[14] Examples of acceptable and unacceptable use given by Gowers in Plain Words include:[14]

Concrete nouns and abstract nouns

Concrete nouns refer to physical entities that can, in principle at least (i.e. different schools of philosophy and sciences may question the assumption, but, for the most part, people agree to the existence of something. E.g. a rock, a tree, universe), be observed by at least one of the senses (for instance, chair, apple, Janet or atom). Abstract nouns, on the other hand, refer to abstract objects; that is, ideas or concepts (such as justice or hatred). While this distinction is sometimes exclusive, some nouns have multiple senses, including both concrete and abstract ones: consider, for example, the noun art, which usually refers to a concept (e.g., Art is an important element of human culture.) but which can refer to a specific artwork in certain contexts (e.g., I put my daughter's art up on the fridge.)

Some abstract nouns developed etymologically by figurative extension from literal roots. These include drawback, fraction, holdout and uptake. Similarly, some nouns have both abstract and concrete senses, with the latter having developed by figurative extension from the former. These include view, filter, structure and key.

In English, many abstract nouns are formed by adding a suffix (-ness, -ity, -ion) to adjectives or verbs. Examples are happiness (from the adjective happy), circulation (from the verb circulate) and serenity (from the adjective serene).

Alienable vs. inalienable nouns

Some languages refer to nouns differently, depending on how ownership is being given for the given noun. This can be broken into two categories: alienable and inalienable. An alienable noun is something that does not belong to a person indefinitely. Inalienable nouns, on the other hand, refer to something that is possessed definitely. Examples of alienable nouns would be a tree or a shirt or roads. Examples of inalienable nouns would be a father or shadow or hair.


The Pingelapese language uses a distinction between nouns.[15] There are several classifier forms: The first is for objects which tend to be pretty large in size and not being a favorite possession (tree or shirt), and the second is for small, controllable, favorite objects like dogs, books or spears. A third form would be set aside for food objects like bananas, oranges or fish. Drinks like water or coconut liquor also have classifier forms. A fifth classifier would be designated for things that are to be chewed but not fully consumed. The only example of this was from the book Papers in Kosraean and Ponapeic: the fruit, pandanus, is chewed for the sweet/bitter juice, but what remains after consuming the juice discarded. The 6th classifier forms are set aside for ways of transportation (bikes, canoes, and boats). The last two classifiers are designated for land and houses.

Noun phrases

A noun phrase is a phrase based on a noun, pronoun, or other noun-like word (nominal) optionally accompanied by modifiers such as determiners and adjectives. A noun phrase functions within a clause or sentence in a role such as that of subject, object, or complement of a verb or preposition. For example, in the sentence "The black cat sat on a dear friend of mine", the noun phrase the black cat serves as the subject, and the noun phrase a dear friend of mine serves as the complement of the preposition on.


Nouns and noun phrases can typically be replaced by pronouns, such as he, it, which, and those, in order to avoid repetition or explicit identification, or for other reasons. For example, in the sentence Gareth thought that he was weird, the word he is a pronoun standing in place of the person's name. The word one can replace parts of noun phrases, and it sometimes stands in for a noun. An example is given below:

But one can also stand in for larger parts of a noun phrase. For example, in the following example, one can stand in for new car.


Nominalization is a process whereby a word that belongs to another part of speech comes to be used as a noun. In French and Spanish, for example, adjectives frequently act as nouns referring to people who have the characteristics denoted by the adjective. This sometimes happens in English as well, as in the following examples:

See also


  1. ^ Example nouns for:
  2. ^ Nouns occur in idioms with no meaning outside the idiom: rock and roll does not describe two different things named by rock and by roll; someone who falls for something lock, stock and barrel does not fall for something lock, for stock, and for barrel; a trick using smoke and mirrors does not separate into the effect of smoke and each mirror. See hendiadys and hendiatris.


  1. ^ nōmen. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  2. ^ "Noun". Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online). Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. 2014.
  3. ^ Loos, Eugene E., et al. 2003. Glossary of linguistic terms: What is a noun?
  4. ^ Bimal Krishna Matilal, The word and the world: India's contribution to the study of language, 1990 (Chapter 3)
  5. ^ nōmen. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.; ὄνομα. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  6. ^ Chicago Manual of Style, "5.10: Noun-equivalents and substantives", The Chicago Manual of Style, University of Chicago Press.
  7. ^ Jackendoff, Ray (2002). "§5.5 Semantics as a generative system". Foundations of language: brain, meaning, grammar, evolution (PDF). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-827012-7.
  8. ^ pages 218, 225 and elsewhere in Quine, Willard Van Orman (2013) [1960 print]. "7 Ontic Decision". Word and Object. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 215–254.
  9. ^ Reimer, Marga (May 20, 2009). Zaita, Edward N. (ed.). "Reference §3.4 Non-Referring Expressions". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2010 Edition). Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  10. ^ English nouns with restricted non-referential interpretation in bare noun phrases
  11. ^ Lester & Beason 2005, p. 4
  12. ^ Krifka, Manfred. 1989. "Nominal Reference, Temporal Constitution and Quantification in Event Semantics". In R. Bartsch, J. van Benthem, P. von Emde Boas (eds.), Semantics and Contextual Expression, Dordrecht: Foris Publication.
  13. ^ Borer 2005
  14. ^ a b Gowers 2014, pp. 189–190
  15. ^ M., Good, Elaine (1989-01-01). Papers in Kosraean and Ponapeic. Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. ISBN 0-8588-3390-5. OCLC 22068434.


  • Lester, Mark; Beason, Larry (2005). The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-144133-6.
  • Borer, Hagit (2005). In Name Only. Structuring Sense. I. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gowers, Ernest (2014). Gowers, Rebecca (ed.). Plain Words. Particular. ISBN 978-0-141-97553-5.

Further reading

For definitions of nouns based on the concept of "identity criteria":

  • Geach, Peter. 1962. Reference and Generality. Cornell University Press.

For more on identity criteria:

  • Gupta, Anil. 1980, The logic of common nouns. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

For the concept that nouns are "prototypically referential":

  • Croft, William. 1993. "A noun is a noun is a noun — or is it? Some reflections on the universality of semantics". Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, ed. Joshua S. Guenter, Barbara A. Kaiser and Cheryl C. Zoll, 369-80. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society.

For an attempt to relate the concepts of identity criteria and prototypical referentiality:

  • Baker, Mark. 2003, Lexical Categories: verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Understanding nouns in the context of WordNet:

External links


In linguistics, an adjective (abbreviated adj) is word whose main syntactic role is to modify a noun or noun phrase. Its semantic role is to change information given by the noun.

Adjectives are one of the English parts of speech, although they were historically classed together with the nouns. Certain words that were traditionally considered to be adjectives, including the, this, my, etc., are today usually classed separately, as determiners.

Article (grammar)

An article (with the linguistic glossing abbreviation ART) is a word that is used with a noun (as a standalone word or a prefix or suffix) to specify grammatical definiteness of the noun, and in some languages extending to volume or numerical scope.

The articles in English grammar are the and a/an, and in certain contexts some. "An" and "a" are modern forms of the Old English "an", which in Anglian dialects was the number "one" (compare "on" in Saxon dialects) and survived into Modern Scots as the number "owan". Both "on" (respelled "one" by the Norman language) and "an" survived into Modern English, with "one" used as the number and "an" ("a", before nouns that begin with a consonant sound) as an indefinite article.

In many languages, articles are a special part of speech which cannot be easily combined with other parts of speech. In English grammar, articles are frequently considered part of a broader category called determiners, which contains articles, demonstratives (such as "this" and "that"), possessive determiners (such as "my" and "his"), and quantifiers (such as "all" and "few"). Articles and other determiners are also sometimes counted as a type of adjective, since they describe the words that they precede.In languages that employ articles, every common noun, with some exceptions, is expressed with a certain definiteness, definite or indefinite, as an attribute (similar to the way many languages express every noun with a certain grammatical number—singular or plural—or a grammatical gender). Articles are among the most common words in many languages; in English, for example, the most frequent word is the.Articles are usually categorized as either definite or indefinite. A few languages with well-developed systems of articles may distinguish additional subtypes. Within each type, languages may have various forms of each article, due to conforming to grammatical attributes such as gender, number, or case. Articles may also be modified as influenced by adjacent sounds or words as in elision (e.g., French "le" becoming "l'" before a vowel), epenthesis (e.g., English "a" becoming "an" before a vowel), or contraction (e.g. Irish "i + na" becoming "sna").

Collective noun

In linguistics, a collective noun refers to a collection of things taken as a whole. Most collective nouns in everyday speech are mundane and not specific to just one kind, such as the word "group", which is applied to "people" in phrase "a group of people", but is also applied to "dogs" in the phrase "a group of dogs". Some collective nouns are specific to one kind, especially terms of venery, which identify specific groups of animals. For example, "pride" as a term of venery always refers to lions, never to dogs or cows. Other specific examples come from popular culture such as a group of owls, which is called a "parliament".Different forms of English handle verb agreement with collective count nouns differently. For example, users of British English generally accept that collective nouns take either singular or plural verb forms depending on context and the metonymic shift that it implies.

Compound (linguistics)

In linguistics, a compound is a lexeme (less precisely, a word or sign) that consists of more than one stem. Compounding, composition or nominal composition is the process of word formation that creates compound lexemes. That is, in familiar terms, compounding occurs when two or more words or signs are joined to make one longer word or sign. The meaning of the compound may be similar to or different from the meaning of its components in isolation. The component stems of a compound may be of the same part of speech—as in the case of the English word footpath, composed of the two nouns foot and path—or they may belong to different parts of speech, as in the case of the English word blackbird, composed of the adjective black and the noun bird. With very few exceptions, English compound words are stressed on their first component stem.

The process occurs readily in other Germanic languages for different reasons. Words can be concatenated both to mean the same as the sum of two words (e.g. Pressekonferenz—German for press conference) or where an adjective and noun are compounded (e.g. hvidvinsglas—Danish for white wine glass).

The addition of affix morphemes to words (such as suffixes or prefixes, as in employ → employment) should not be confused with nominal composition, as this is actually morphological derivation.

Some languages easily form compounds from what in other languages would be a multi-word expression. This can result in unusually long words, a phenomenon known in German (which is one such language) as Bandwurmwörter or tapeworm words.

Sign languages also have compounds. They are created by combining two or more sign stems.

Count noun

In linguistics, a count noun (also countable noun) is a noun that can be modified by a numeral and that occurs in both singular and plural forms, and that co-occurs with quantificational determiners like every, each, several, etc. A mass noun has none of these properties, because it cannot be modified by a numeral, cannot occur in plural, and cannot co-occur with quantificational determiners.


A determiner, also called determinative (abbreviated DET), is a word, phrase, or affix that occurs together with a noun or noun phrase and serves to express the reference of that noun or noun phrase in the context. That is, a determiner may indicate whether the noun is referring to a definite or indefinite element of a class, to a closer or more distant element, to an element belonging to a specified person or thing, to a particular number or quantity, etc. Common kinds of determiners include definite and indefinite articles (like the English the and a or an), demonstratives (this and that), possessive determiners (my and their), quantifiers (many, few and several), numerals, distributive determiners (each, any), and interrogative determiners (which).

English grammar

English grammar is the way in which meanings are encoded into wordings in the English language. This includes the structure of words, phrases, clauses, and sentences, right up to the structure of whole texts.

There are historical, social, cultural and regional variations of English. Divergences from the grammar described here occur in some dialects. This article describes a generalized present-day Standard English – a form of speech and writing used in public discourse, including broadcasting, education, entertainment, government, and news, over a range of registers from formal to informal. There are differences in grammar between the standard forms of British, American, and Australian English, although these are more minor than differences in vocabulary and pronunciation.

Modern English has largely abandoned the inflectional case system of Indo-European in favor of analytic constructions. The personal pronouns retain morphological case more strongly than any other word class (a remnant of the more extensive Germanic case system of Old English). For other pronouns, and all nouns, adjectives, and articles, grammatical function is indicated only by word order, by prepositions, and by the "Saxon genitive or English possessive" (-'s).Eight "word classes" or "parts of speech" are commonly distinguished in English: nouns, determiners, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions. Nouns form the largest word class, and verbs the second-largest. Unlike many Indo-European languages, English nouns do not have grammatical gender.

Genitive case

In grammar, the genitive case (abbreviated gen), also called the second case, is the grammatical case that marks a word, usually a noun, as modifying another word, also usually a noun—thus, indicating an attributive relationship of one noun to the other noun. A genitive can also serve purposes indicating other relationships. For example, some verbs may feature arguments in the genitive case; and the genitive case may also have adverbial uses (see adverbial genitive).

Genitive construction includes the genitive case, but is a broader category. Placing a modifying noun in the genitive case is one way of indicating that it is related to a head noun, in a genitive construction. However, there are other ways to indicate a genitive construction. For example, many Afroasiatic languages place the head noun (rather than the modifying noun) in the construct state.

Possessive grammatical constructions, including the possessive case, may be regarded as a subset of genitive construction. For example, the genitive construction "pack of dogs" is similar, but not identical in meaning to the possessive case "dogs' pack" (and neither of these is entirely interchangeable with "dog pack", which is neither genitive nor possessive). Modern English is an example of a language that has a possessive case rather than a conventional genitive case. That is, Modern English indicates a genitive construction with either the possessive clitic suffix "-'s", or a prepositional genitive construction such as "x of y". However, some irregular English pronouns do have possessive forms which may more commonly be described as genitive (see English possessive).

Many languages have a genitive case, including Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Basque, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Georgian, German, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Irish, Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Sanskrit, Scottish Gaelic, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Turkish and all Slavic languages except Bulgarian and Macedonian.

Grammatical case

Case is a special grammatical category of a noun, pronoun, adjective, participle or numeral whose value reflects the grammatical function performed by that word in a phrase, clause or sentence. In some languages, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, determiners, participles, prepositions, numerals, articles and their modifiers take different inflected forms, depending on their case. As a language evolves, cases can merge (for instance, in Ancient Greek, the locative case merged with the dative case), a phenomenon formally called syncretism.English has largely lost its inflected case system although personal pronouns still have three cases, which are simplified forms of the nominative, accusative and genitive cases. They are used with personal pronouns: subjective case (I, you, he, she, it, we, they, who, whoever), objective case (me, you, him, her, it, us, them, whom, whomever) and possessive case (my, mine; your, yours; his; her, hers; its; our, ours; their, theirs; whose; whosever). Forms such as I, he and we are used for the subject ("I kicked the ball"), and forms such as me, him and us are used for the object ("John kicked me").

Languages such as Ancient Greek, Armenian, Assamese, Basque, Belarusian, Croatian, Czechoslovakian, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Sanskrit, Serbian, Tamil, Tibetan (one of a few tonal languages), Turkish, Ukrainian and most Caucasian languages have extensive case systems, with nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and determiners all inflecting (usually by means of different suffixes) to indicate their case. The number of cases differs between languages: Esperanto has two; German and Icelandic have four; Romanian has five; Latin, Russian and Turkish each have at least six; Armenian, Czech, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian and Ukrainian have seven; Sanskrit and Tamil have eight; Estonian has 14; Finnish has 15; Hungarian has 18 and Tsez has 64 cases.

Commonly encountered cases include nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. A role that one of those languages marks by case is often marked in English with a preposition. For example, the English prepositional phrase with (his) foot (as in "John kicked the ball with his foot") might be rendered in Russian using a single noun in the instrumental case or in Ancient Greek as τῷ ποδί (tôi podí, meaning "the foot") with both words (the definite article, and the noun πούς (poús) "foot") changing to dative form.

More formally, case has been defined as "a system of marking dependent nouns for the type of relationship they bear to their heads". Cases should be distinguished from thematic roles such as agent and patient. They are often closely related, and in languages such as Latin, several thematic roles have an associated case, but cases are a morphological notion, and thematic roles a semantic one. Languages having cases often exhibit free word order, as thematic roles are not required to be marked by position in the sentence.

Grammatical gender

In linguistics, grammatical gender is a specific form of noun class system in which the division of noun classes forms an agreement system with another aspect of the language, such as adjectives, articles, pronouns, or verbs. This system is used in approximately one quarter of the world's languages. In these languages, most or all nouns inherently carry one value of the grammatical category called gender; the values present in a given language (of which there are usually two or three) are called the genders of that language. According to one definition: "Genders are classes of nouns reflected in the behaviour of associated words."Common gender divisions include masculine and feminine; masculine, feminine and neuter; or animate and inanimate. In a few languages, the gender assignment of nouns is solely determined by their meaning or attributes, like biological sex, humanness, or animacy. However, in most languages, this semantic division is only partially valid, and many nouns may belong to a gender category that contrasts with their meaning (e.g. the word for "manliness" could be of feminine gender). In this case, the gender assignment can also be influenced by the morphology or phonology of the noun, or in some cases can be apparently arbitrary.

Grammatical gender manifests itself when words related to a noun like determiners, pronouns or adjectives change their form (inflect) according to the gender of noun they refer to (agreement). The parts of speech affected by gender agreement, the circumstances in which it occurs, and the way words are marked for gender vary between languages. Gender inflection may interact with other grammatical categories like number or case. In some languages the declension pattern followed by the noun itself will be different for different genders.

Grammatical gender is found in many Indo-European languages (including Spanish, French, Russian, and German — but not Persian or English, for example), Afroasiatic languages (which includes the Semitic and Berber languages, etc.), and in other language families such as Dravidian and Northeast Caucasian, as well as several Australian Aboriginal languages such as Dyirbal, and Kalaw Lagaw Ya. Most Niger–Congo languages also have extensive systems of noun classes, which can be grouped into several grammatical genders. Conversely, grammatical gender is usually absent from the Koreanic, Japonic, Tungusic, Turkic, Mongolic, Austronesian, Sino-Tibetan, Uralic and most Native American language families. Modern English makes use of gender in pronouns, which are generally marked for natural gender, but lacks a system of gender concord within the noun phrase which is one of the central elements of grammatical gender in most other Indo-European languages.


The hyphen (‐) is a punctuation mark used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word. The use of hyphens is called hyphenation. Non-hyphenated is an example of a hyphenated word. The hyphen should not be confused with dashes (‒, –, —, ―), which are longer and have different uses, or with the minus sign (−), which is also longer in some contexts.

As an orthographic concept, the hyphen is a single entity. In terms of character encoding and display, that entity is represented by any of several characters and glyphs (including hard hyphens, soft or optional hyphens, and nonbreaking hyphens), depending on the context of use (discussed below).

Although hyphens are not to be confused with en dashes and minus signs, there are some overlaps in usage (in which either a hyphen or an en dash may be acceptable, depending on user preference; discussed below) and in character encoding (which often uses the same character, called a "hyphen-minus", to represent both the hyphen and minus sign entities; discussed below).

Mass noun

In linguistics, a mass noun, uncountable noun, or non-count noun is a noun with the syntactic property that any quantity of it is treated as an undifferentiated unit, rather than as something with discrete subsets. Non-count nouns are distinguished from count nouns.

Given that different languages have different grammatical features, the actual test for which nouns are mass nouns may vary between languages. In English, mass nouns are characterized by the fact that they cannot be directly modified by a numeral without specifying a unit of measurement, and that they cannot combine with an indefinite article (a or an). Thus, the mass noun "water" is quantified as "20 litres of water" while the count noun "chair" is quantified as "20 chairs". However, both mass and count nouns can be quantified in relative terms without unit specification (e.g., "so much water," "so many chairs").

Some mass nouns can be used in English in the plural to mean "more than one instance (or example) of a certain sort of entity"—for example, "Many cleaning agents today are technically not soaps, but detergents." In such cases they no longer play the role of mass nouns, but (syntactically) they are treated as count nouns.

Some nouns can be used indifferently as mass or count nouns, e.g., three cabbages or three heads of cabbage; three ropes or three lengths of rope. Some have different senses as mass and count nouns: paper is a mass noun as a material (three reams of paper, two sheets of paper), but a count noun as a unit of writing ("the students passed in their papers").

Nominative case

The nominative case (abbreviated NOM), subjective case, straight case or upright case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments. Generally, the noun "that is doing something" is in the nominative, and the nominative is often the form listed in dictionaries.

Noun phrase

A noun phrase or nominal phrase is a phrase that has a noun (or indefinite pronoun) as its head or shows the same grammatical function as such a phrase. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently occurring phrase type.

Noun phrases often function as verb subjects and objects, as predicative expressions, and as the complements of prepositions. Noun phrases can be embedded inside each other; for instance, the noun phrase some of his constituents contains the shorter noun phrase his constituents.

In some more modern theories of grammar, noun phrases with determiners are analyzed as having the determiner as the head of the phrase, see for instance Chomsky (1995) and Hudson (1990).

Part of speech

In traditional grammar, a part of speech' (abbreviated form: PoS or POS) is a category of words (or, more generally, of lexical items) which have similar grammatical properties. Words that are assigned to the same part of speech generally display similar behavior in terms of syntax—they play similar roles within the grammatical structure of sentences—and sometimes in terms of morphology, in that they undergo inflection for similar properties.

Commonly listed English parts of speech are noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, interjection, and sometimes numeral, article, or determiner. Other Indo-European languages also have essentially all these word classes; one exception to this generalization is that most Slavic languages as well as Latin and Sanskrit do not have articles. Beyond the Indo-European family, such other European languages as Hungarian and Finnish, both of which belong to the Uralic family, completely lack prepositions or have only very few of them; rather, they have postpositions.

Other terms than part of speech—particularly in modern linguistic classifications, which often make more precise distinctions than the traditional scheme does—include word class, lexical class, and lexical category. Some authors restrict the term lexical category to refer only to a particular type of syntactic category; for them the term excludes those parts of speech that are considered to be functional, such as pronouns. The term form class is also used, although this has various conflicting definitions. Word classes may be classified as open or closed: open classes (like nouns, verbs and adjectives) acquire new members constantly, while closed classes (such as pronouns and conjunctions) acquire new members infrequently, if at all.

Almost all languages have the word classes noun and verb, but beyond these two there are significant variations among different languages. For example,

Japanese has as many as three classes of adjectives, where English has one (not to be confused with the seven types of English adjectives, or the fact that English adjectives can modify both nouns and pronouns);Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese have a class of nominal classifiers; andMany languages do not distinguish between adjectives and adverbs, or between adjectives and verbs (see stative verb).Because of such variation in the number of categories and their identifying properties, analysis of parts of speech must be done for each individual language. Nevertheless, the labels for each category are assigned on the basis of universal criteria.


A possessive form (abbreviated POSS) is a word or grammatical construction used to indicate a relationship of possession in a broad sense. This can include strict ownership, or a number of other types of relation to a greater or lesser degree analogous to it.Most European languages feature possessive forms associated with personal pronouns, like the English my, mine, your, yours, his and so on. There are two main ways in which these can be used (and a variety of terminologies for each):

Together with a noun, as in my car, your sisters, his boss. Here the possessive form serves as an adjective or determiner, and may be called a possessive adjective, possessive determiner or adjectival possessive pronoun.

Without an accompanying noun, as in mine is red, I prefer yours, this book is his. A possessive used in this way is called a substantive possessive pronoun or an absolute pronoun.Some languages, including English, also have possessive forms derived from nouns or noun phrases, such as Jane's, cows' and nobody else's. These can be used in the same two ways as the pronoun-derived forms: adjectivally, as in Jane's office; and substantivally, as in that one is Jane's.

Possessives are sometimes regarded as a grammatical case (the possessive case), although they are also sometimes considered to represent the genitive case, or are not assigned to any case, depending on which language is being considered. On the other hand, some languages, such as the Cariban languages, can be said to have a possessed case, used to indicate the other party (the thing possessed) in a possession relationship. A similar feature found in some languages is the possessive affix, usually a suffix, added to the (possessed) noun to indicate the possessor, as in the Finnish taloni ("my house"), where talo means "house" and the suffix -ni means "my".

The concepts of possessive forms and genitive forms are sometimes conflated, although they are not exactly the same. The genitive form, which does not exist in modern English as an inflection, represents an of relationship, which may or may not be possessive; in other words, the possessive is a subset of genitive. For example, the genitive form "speed of the car" is equivalent to the possessive form "the car's speed". However, the genitive form "pack of dogs" is not the same as the possessive form "dogs' pack" (though it is the same as "dog pack", which is not possessive).

The glossing abbreviation POS or POSS may be used to indicate possessive forms.

Preposition and postposition

Prepositions and postpositions, together called adpositions (or broadly, in English, simply prepositions), are a class of words used to express spatial or temporal relations (in, under, towards, before) or mark various semantic roles (of, for).A preposition or postposition typically combines with a noun or pronoun, or more generally a noun phrase, this being called its complement, or sometimes object. A preposition comes before its complement; a postposition comes after its complement. English generally has prepositions rather than postpositions – words such as in, under and of precede their objects, such as in England, under the table, of Jane – although there are a few exceptions including "ago" and "notwithstanding", as in "three days ago" and "financial limitations notwithstanding". Some languages that use a different word order, have postpositions instead, or have both types. The phrase formed by a preposition or postposition together with its complement is called a prepositional phrase (or postpositional phrase, adpositional phrase, etc.) – such phrases usually play an adverbial role in a sentence.

A less common type of adposition is the circumposition, which consists of two parts that appear on each side of the complement. Other terms sometimes used for particular types of adposition include ambiposition, inposition and interposition. Some linguists use the word preposition in place of adposition regardless of the applicable word order.


In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun (abbreviated PRO) has been theorized to be a word that substitutes for a noun or noun phrase. It is a particular case of a pro-form.

Pronouns have traditionally been regarded as one of the parts of speech, but some modern theorists would not consider them to form a single class, in view of the variety of functions they perform cross-linguistically. Subtypes include personal and possessive pronouns, reflexive and reciprocal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, relative and interrogative pronouns, and indefinite pronouns.The use of pronouns often involves anaphora, where the meaning of the pronoun is dependent on an antecedent. For example, in the sentence That poor man looks as if he needs a new coat, the antecedent of the pronoun he is dependent on that poor man.

The adjective associated with pronoun is pronominal. A pronominal is also a word or phrase that acts as a pronoun. For example, in That's not the one I wanted, the phrase the one (containing the prop-word one) is a pronominal.

Proper noun

A proper noun is a noun directly associated with an entity and primarily used to refer to that entity, such as London, Jupiter, Sharon, or Microsoft, as distinguished from a common noun, which is a noun directly associated with a class of entities (city, planet, person, corporation) and primarily used to refer to instances of a specific class (a city, another planet, these persons, our corporation).Some proper nouns occur in plural form (optionally or exclusively), and then they refer to groups of entities considered as unique (the Hendersons, the Everglades, the Azores, the Pleiades). Proper nouns can also occur in secondary applications, for example modifying nouns (the Mozart experience; his Azores adventure), or in the role of common nouns (he's no Pavarotti; a few would-be Napoleons). The detailed definition of the term is problematic and to an extent governed by convention.A distinction is normally made in current linguistics between proper nouns and proper names. By this strict distinction, because the term noun is used for a class of single words (tree, beauty), only single-word proper names are proper nouns: Peter and Africa are both proper names and proper nouns; but Peter the Great and South Africa, while they are proper names, are not proper nouns. The term common name is not much used to contrast with proper name, but some linguists have used the term for that purpose. Sometimes proper names are called simply names; but that term is often used more broadly. Words derived from proper names are sometimes called proper adjectives (or proper adverbs, and so on), but not in mainstream linguistic theory. Not every noun or noun phrase that refers to a unique entity is a proper name. Blackness and chastity are common nouns, even if blackness and chastity are considered unique abstract entities.

Few proper names have only one possible referent: there are many places named New Haven; Jupiter may refer to a planet, a god, a ship, or a symphony; at least one person has been named Mata Hari, but so have a horse, a song, and three films; there are towns and people named Toyota, as well as the company.

In English, proper names in their primary application cannot normally be modified by an article or other determiner (such as any or another), although some may be taken to include the article the, as in the Netherlands, the Roaring Forties, or the Rolling Stones. A proper name may appear to refer by having a descriptive meaning, even though it does not (the Rolling Stones are not stones and do not roll; a woman named Rose is not a flower). Or if it had once been descriptive (and then perhaps not even a proper name at all), it may no longer be so (a location previously referred to as "the new town" may now have the proper name Newtown, though it is no longer new, and is now a city rather than a town).

In English and many other languages, proper names and words derived from them are associated with capitalization; but the details are complex, and vary from language to language (French lundi, Canada, canadien; English Monday, Canada, Canadian).

The study of proper names is sometimes called onomastics or onomatology while a rigorous analysis of the semantics of proper names is a matter for philosophy of language.

Lexical categories and their features

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