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What is a common noun? What is a proper noun?

What is a noun?

A noun is a word which is being used as the name of a thing. That thing can be a physical item or an abstract idea.

It can be a singular noun (a name for one thing) or a plural noun (a name for several things). So book and books are both nouns.


What’s the difference between a common noun and a proper noun?

A common noun is the name for an ordinary thing which has the same name as others of its type. It can be a concrete object or an abstract idea. This includes members of groups and sub-groups, where the same word would be used for every member, so reptile, snake and cobra are all common nouns.

Examples of common nouns: plate, car, idea, hats, elephant, children, apple, anger, countryside, computers, selfishness, wedding, eyes, plant. 

proper noun is a special thing with its own name, which does not apply to others of its type – for instance, the name of a person (or their title), a specific place, animal, event, product brand, company, group or organisation. So girl would be a common noun, but Alice would be a proper noun.

Examples of proper nouns: Mahatma Gandhi, Moscow, Coca-Cola, Star Wars, Italy, the Taj Mahal, Napoleon, the Loch Ness Monster, Judaism, King Arthur, Billy the Kid, PlayStation, Coldplay, the United Nations, Mother’s Day, Sir Isaac Newton, the Grand Canyon. 


What’s the difference between a concrete noun and an abstract noun?

A concrete noun is a name for something which exists in the physical world – something you can see or feel. It can be a common noun or a proper noun. So gates and Bill Gates are both concrete nouns because they both have a physical existence.

Examples of concrete nouns: table, fireplace, cake, Madonna, breeze, shark, footballer, heat, spoon, France.

An abstract noun is a thing which has no physical existence – a feeling or idea.

Examples of abstract nouns: loneliness, suggestion, boredom, power, greed, generosity, reputation, fury, stress, spirituality, employment, strength.

What about things which don’t really exist, like fairies? They have no physical existence, so you can’t see or hear them.

Some people would say that is a matter of opinion. English grammar does not have an opinion on these matters – it doesn’t speculate on whether tables and chairs really exist, either, so the same applies to imaginary (or arguably-imaginary) beings, fictional characters and people who are now dead and therefore no longer have a physical existence. If something would have a physical existence if it existed, it’s still a concrete noun.

So these are also classified as concrete nouns: fairy, goblin, God, angels, Mary Poppins, demon, Father Christmas, ghost, Pikachu, centaur, Abraham Lincoln.


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