A noun is often described as a word representing a person, such as child, an animal, such as goat, a thing, such as house or an idea, such as inevitability. We can refer to the meanings of nouns as their semantic properties, but words have other properties too. To revert to morphology, we can see that certain word endings are typically found in nouns. The -ability ending of inevitability is one. Others are –ness, as in kindness, and -ion, as in relation. We can also see that when a word ends in -s it might possibly be the plural form of a noun, and that when it ends in -‘s or –s’ it will normally be the form of a noun that indicates possession or attribution. A third indicator of the class to which a word belongs is its syntactic role, the way it behaves in a sentence. A noun can be preceded by a definite or indefinite article, an adjective or by other determiners. Most noticeably, if a word is the subject or object of a sentence it will typically be a noun (or a pronoun). To summarize, a noun can be identified by its semantic, morphological and syntactic properties.
Nouns, once identified as such, can be countable or uncountable. Table, boy, book, mountain and house are countable. They can be preceded by either the definite or indefinite article (that’s the, or a or an) or by words like your or this. Countable nouns also have the characteristic of being able to form plurals. Weather, thoughtfulness, gold, Arctic and music, on the other hand, are uncountable. They cannot be preceded by the indefinite article, and do not normally have plurals. Occasionally, however, nouns can be countable in one context and uncountable in another. When we refer to beer in general it’s uncountable, but when we want some we can say Let’s go and have a beer.
Nouns can also be abstract or concrete. From the examples given, it’s easy to see that table, say, is concrete: a table is something we can touch and bump into. Thoughtfulness, on the other hand, is not something we can touch and bump into, because it’s abstract.
Finally, we distinguish between common nouns and proper nouns. Proper nouns describe things or people that are unique, such as Africa, the United Nations or Elizabeth II. By contrast, there are several continents, organizations and monarchs, so continent, organization and monarch are common nouns.