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Parts of Speech - The Noun

Understanding the Noun


A noun is a name (nomen) given to an object or idea.

Classes of Nouns

  • A common noun is a name given to any one of a class of objects (tulip, city, face, movie, girl, clue, lake, cookie).

    Common nouns can be further broken down into the following sub-classes:
    • A concrete noun is the name of a perceivable object (spoon).
    • An abstract noun is the name of a quality or idea (truth, ethics).
    • A collective noun is the name of a group of things (mob, herd).
    • A mass noun is the name of a non-countable collection (time).
  • A proper noun is the official title of a specific object; it is therefore always capitalized (Dionysus, Bela Lugosi, Atlantic Ocean, Mother goose).

    A proper noun can always be put into its common noun class:

    Texas -> state;
    Atlantic -> ocean;
    Bela Lugosi -> man (or actor)

Properties of Nouns

There are four basic properties to English nouns:

  1. Gender - a property that indicates the sex of the referent. These include:
    • Masculine - king, uncle, boy, warlock, etc.
    • Feminine - queen, aunt, girl, witch, etc.
    • Common - parent, sibling, cow, singer, table

  2. Person - property indicating the relationship between the noun and the speaker. These include:
    • First person - object(s) speaking (I, John, am here.)
    • Second person - object(s) spoken to (John, come here.)
    • Third person - object(s) spoken of (John is here.)

  3. Number - An indication of one or more than one object. This includes:
    • Singular - denotes one object (cat)
    • Plural - denotes more than one object (cats)

  4. Case - Indicates the grammatical function of the object. These include:
    • Nominative - The noun is the doer of the action (or the subject)

      The sun shines. (subj)
      Grant was a general. (subj complement)
      The chief, an old man, rose. (appositive)
      Charles, please come here. (direct address)

    • Objective - The noun is acted upon

      Bob repelled the intruder. (d/o)
      Mom gave Ellen a hug. (i/o)
      Tom hit Bill, the new boy. (appositive of d/o)
      Mom gave Ellen, her daughter, a hug. (appositve of i/o)
      The man under the tree smiled. (obj prep)

    • Possessive - Denotes ownership or agency

      The boy's kite... (one boy)
      The boys' kite... (more than one boy)
      John and Bill's kite... (joint ownership)
      John's and Bill's kites... (indiv. ownership)

Plural Forms

In English, plural nouns are formed in different ways:

  1. Regular plurals - Formed by adding -s or -es to singular noun forms (cars, boxes, etc.)
  2. Irregular plurals - Formed by spelling change other than by adding -s or -es
    (foot -> feet; mouse -> mice; child -> children)
  3. Double plurals - A noun that can have both a regular and irregular plural form
    (brother -> brothers or brethren; bandit -> bandits or banditti)
  4. Plurals treated as singular - Some nouns have a plural form but a singular meaning
    (news; means; physics, dollars)

Role of Nouns

A noun can have a variety of functions in English, including:

  1. Subject of a verb - who/what does the action.

    The water ripples.
    Sparks flew.

  2. Object of a verb - who/what receives the action; for whom/what?

    I scratched my nose. (d/o)
    I gave the lady the case. (i/o)

  3. Object of a preposition - the "what?" of the preposition

    The pendulum swings over the pit.

  4. Complement - completes the meaning of another noun or pronoun.

    I am a priest. (sbj complement)
    I saw Joe, the new hire. (obj complement)

  5. Appositive - A noun used to explain or identify another nounal.

    I waved at my guest, a strange fellow.
    The story, a tale of fabulous imagination...
    I called Bob, my professor.

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