A noun is the name of anything: book, John, sky, team.

There are four classes of nouns: common, proper, abstract and collective.

  1. The common noun is the name common to all objects of the same kind: book, stone.
  2. The proper noun is the name of a particular person, place or thing: Laura, Mexico.
  3. The abstract noun is the name of a quality or state: happiness, fear, whiteness.
  4. The collective noun is the name of a number of things taken as one: class, group, team.

1. Gender

Gender is considered as a grammatical classification according to sex.

There are four genders in English: masculine, feminine, common and neuter.

  • The masculine gender, used for all males: boy, man, lion, bull.
  • The feminine gender, used for all females: girl, woman, lioness, cow.
  • The common gender, where the noun has the same form for masculine and feminine (the sex cannot be told from the form of the word): child, parent, friend, singer, artist.
  • The neuter gender, used for inanimate objects: table, house, pencil. A couple of exceptions are ships, and countries when they are referred to by name.

Forming the feminine

There are three usual methods to form the feminine from the masculine.

  • By adding -ess at the end of the word. If the word ends in -er or -or, the vowel is often dropped.

    lion → lioness

    jew → jewess

    tiger → tigress

    actor → actress

    manager → manageress

    master → mistress

  • By using a different word.

    husband → wife

    brother → sister

    king → queen

    lord → lady

    bull → cow

    horse → mare

  • By prefixing or affixing a word.

    manservant → maidservant

    landlord → landlady

There are a few irregular forms:

executor → executrix

testator → testatrix

hero → heroine

2. Numbers

There are two numbers: singular and plural.

The plural of a noun is usually formed by adding { s } to the singular.

boy → boys

horse → horses


  • Words that end in -o, -ch, -sh, -ss or -x, add -es.

    potato → potatoes

    church → churches

    brush → brushes

    Foreign or abbreviated words ending in -o, just add -s.

    photo → photos

    piano → pianos

    dynamo → dynamos

  • Words that end in -y preceded by a consonant, change the -y to -ies.

    fly → flies

    lady → ladies

    baby → babies

  • Words that end in -f or -fe, change to -ves (actually there are twelve of these nouns: calf, half, knife, leaf, life, loaf, self, sheaf, shelf, thief, wife and wolf).

    leaf → leaves

    wife → wives

    wolf → wolves

    All the other nouns just add the -s.

    cliff → cliffs

    gulf → gulfs

    chief → chiefs

    But some can take either -s or -ves.

    scarf → scarfs/scarves

    wharf → wharfs/wharves

  • Some nouns form their plural by a vowel change.

    man → men

    foot → feet

    mouse → mice

  • Three nouns add -en or -ren.

    child → children

    ox → oxen

    brother → brethren

  • Some nouns (like some fish and animals) do not change: deer, fish, grouse, heathen, salmon, sheep and trout.

    There were two deer crossing the road.

  • Words that retain their original Greek or Latin forms follow the respective rules.

    basis → bases

    datum → data

    phenomenon → phenomena

    But some common Greek or Latin words follow the rules of English.

    dogma → dogmas

    formula → formulas

    gymnasium → gymnasiums

Special cases

  • Some nouns have two plurals (with different meaning).

    brother → brothers / brethren (figuratively)

    genius → geniuses / genii (magic spirits)

    index → indexes / indices (a mathematical term)

    penny → pennies / pence (value, when the amount only is being considered)

  • Some nouns have no plural: advice, furniture, information, knowledge, mathematics, news, progress.

    This is good news.

  • Some nouns have no singular: billiards, clothes, contents, goods, people, thanks, scissors, wages, etc.

    There are people helping at the hospital.

    These clothes are dirty.

3. Countable and uncountable nouns

Countable nouns refer to things that can be counted: pencils, apples, cars, etc.

Uncountable nouns refer to things that cannot be counted: milk, money, music, sugar, water, weather, etc.

  • Countable nouns can be singular or plural.

    The tree is big. The trees are big.

  • Uncountable nouns can only be singular.

    The milk is cold. The weather was good.

Expressions of quantity

  • Countable nouns are used with some in affirmative sentences, and with any in questions and negatives.

    There are some books at the table.

    Are there any books at the table?

    There aren’t any books at the table.

    Uncountable nouns are used with some in affirmative sentences, and with any in questions and negatives.

    There is some milk left.

    Is there any milk left?

    There isn’t any milk left.

  • Countable nouns are used with many in questions and negatives.

    How many books are there? There aren’t many books.

    Uncountable nouns are used with much in questions and negatives.

    How much sugar is there? There isn’t much sugar.

  • Both countable and uncountable nouns are used with a lot of and lots of in affirmative sentences.

    I have a lot of books. I have lots of books.

    There is a lot of sugar. There is lots of sugar.

  • Countable nouns are used with a few.

    This expression is used to denote a small number (or what the speaker considers to be a small number).

    I have a few books. I saw him a few days ago.

    Uncountable nouns are used with a little.

    This expression is used to denote a small amount (or what the speaker considers to be a small amount).

    I need a little sugar. He is a little worried about the exam.

4. Compound nouns

A compound noun occurs when two nouns (or a noun + other kind of word) are together. In this case the first noun works as an adjective (a describing word).

  • Usually the last word is made plural on a compound noun.

    armchair → armchairs

    fireman → firemen

  • If man or woman is prefixed, both parts are made plural.

    manservant → menservants

  • Compound nouns formed with prepositions or adverbs make only the first word plural.

    father-in-law → fathers-in-law

    passer-by → passers-by

  • If the compound noun has an adjective as the last word, the first word is usually made plural.

    court-martial → courts-martial

5. Possessive case

The case refers to the relation between the noun and some other word. The possessive case is used to denote a possessor/possessed relationship.

Case endings

In the possessive case English nouns have case ending.

  • For singular nouns and plural nouns not ending in -s, an apostrophe plus an { s } is used: { ’s }.

    John’s dog. The men’s dogs.

  • For plural nouns ending in -s, a simple apostrophe is placed at the end.

    The girls dolls. The ladies’ bathroom.

  • Classical names ending in -s and a few English names add only the apostrophe.

    Hercules’ adventures. Keats’ poetry.

    But there are exceptions.

    Venus’s beauty. St. James’s Park.

  • Compound nouns are normally treated as one word.

    My father-in-law’s car.

Use of the possessive case

  • The possessive case is used mainly when the possessor is a person or an animal.

    John’s book. The dog’s leash.

  • When the possessor is a thing, the word of is normally used.

    The roof of the church. The legs of the table.

  • If the possessor noun is immediately followed by a phrase or a clause, the of rule is followed.

    The doll of the girl is pretty (not: the girl’s doll is pretty).

    The dog of the boy with the cap (not: the boy’s dog with the cap).

  • With many well-known combinations it is common to put the two nouns together using the first noun as an adjective (often used to indicate the position of something).

    Dining-room table. Kitchen sink. Street lamp.

    This may also happen:

    • With names of towns.

      New York police.

    • When there is a connection with time.

      Winter sports, summer holidays.

    • To indicate the use of clothes, equipment, vehicles, etc.

      Tennis shoes. Golf clubs. Coffee cup.

    • With some kinds of stories.

      Adventure stories. Detective stories.

    Avoid using a possessive form for the first noun in compound nouns.

    business students (not: business’ students).

  • The possessive form is used with expressions of time (second, minute, hour, day, night, week, fortnight, month, year).

    A month’s salary. Today’s paper.

6. Forms of nouns

Nouns can be derived from other kind of words, like other nouns, adjectives or verbs. These nouns can generally be identified by their endings.

From adjectives and nouns

Typical suffixes of nouns derived from adjectives or other nouns include:

-ce: confident → confidence silent → silence
patient → patience violent → violence
-ism: critic → criticism egotistical → egotism
magnetic → magnetism vandal → vandalism
-ist: art → artist capital → capitalist
journal → journalist science → scientist
-ity: available → availability possible → possibility
real → reality suitable → suitability
-ness: blind → blindness cheerful → cheerfulness
friendly → friendliness weak → weakness
-y: accurate → accuracy efficient → efficiency
frequent → frequency honest → honesty
-ship: friend → friendship leader → leadership
member → membership relation → relationship
-hood: child → childhood father → fatherhood
mother → motherhood parent → parenthood

From verbs

Typical suffixes of nouns derived from verbs include:

-al: approve → approval arrive → arrival
propose → proposal refuse → refusal
-ance: accept → acceptance appear → appearance
assist → assistance perform → performance
-ation: associate → association demonstrate → demonstration
qualificate → qualification starvate → starvation
-er/-or: act → actor paint → painter
sail → sailor write → writer
-ment: arrange → arrangement astonish → astonishment
encourage → encouragement replace → replacement
-tion: describe → description connect → connection
object → objection reflect → reflection

While the suffix -al occurs in some nouns, it is actually more common to see it in adjectives (marital, unusual).

There are however, derived nouns with different suffixes.

behave → behaviour bored → boredom complain → complaint
delighted → delight fail → failure high → height
hungry → hunger magic → magician mix → mixture
proud → pride strong → strength thirsty → thirst
traitor → treason wealthy → wealth wise → wisdom

7. Exercises

You may use a dictionary to answer these exercises.

Indicate what class of noun is each of the following.

John people peacefulness love angel
crowd beauty France glass eye

Indicate the feminine counterpart of the following nouns.

cock uncle conductor wizard master
monk nephew horse widower stepfather

What is the plural form of the following nouns.

tomato sheep wine coffee thief
hair hoof tooth actress people

Give a noun opposite in meaning to each of the following nouns.

hero failure liberty joy defeat
question fear sickness knowledge exposed

Match each collective noun in the first column with a line in the second column.

army ____ 1. bees
audience ____ 2. books
congregation ____ 3. cattle
constellation ____ 4. fish
crew ____ 5. people in church listening to a sermon
crowd ____ 6. people listening to a concert
flock ____ 7. people determining if a person is guilty or not
herd ____ 8. persons
jury ____ 9. sailors
library ____ 10. sheep
pack ____ 11. soldiers
shoal ____ 12. stars
swarm ____ 13. wolves

Each of the following sentences has one or more errors. Find them and correct them.

  1. Mathematics are a difficult subject.
  2. This is the Mexico’s President’s house.
  3. Her knowledges of history are considerable.
  4. The actress is going to celebrate his birthday in Europe.
  5. My son is going to a new school, so he has only a little friends.
  6. That coffee’s cup is big.
  7. These news are bad.
  8. A pack of wolfs chased some deers through the forest.
  9. She was glad to receive my advices.
  10. My brother has a lots of books.
  11. I had to replace my kitchen’s sink because it was rusty.

Match a line in the first column with a line in the second column to form a suitable compound noun.

alarm ____ 1. ache
bed ____ 2. belt
book ____ 3. bin
can ____ 4. board
cigarette ____ 5. brush
credit ____ 6. card
dust ____ 7. case
ear ____ 8. clock
earth ____ 9. coat
fire ____ 10. drier
hair ____ 11. driver
living ____ 12. engine
message ____ 13. hour
pocket ____ 14. lighter
rain ____ 15. lights
rush ____ 16. model
safety ____ 17. money
screw ____ 18. opener
sign ____ 19. post
stomach ____ 20. quake
sun ____ 21. recorder
tape ____ 22. ring
time ____ 23. room
tooth ____ 24. set
top ____ 25. table
traffic ____ 26. time

Put the corresponding noun of the following root words:

able careless depress embarrass fluent
happy improve kind owner permanent
predicate probable pronunciate renew selfish
shy silent sportman survive translate

Rewrite the following sentences using the correct noun (based on the word in brackets).

  1. We had a good (relation) for several years.
  2. She doesn’t like to go out much; she says there is too much (violent) in the streets.
  3. Mathematics was my main (weak) at school.
  4. He gave a very lovely (describe) of his (child).
  5. Russia used to be a (common) country.
  6. Most (art) in the world remain unknown.
  7. He was condemned for (traitor) and sentenced to five years in jail.
  8. People who get lost in the desert usually die of (thirsty).
  9. I was not allowed to enter the club because my (member) had expired.
  10. What would be the (possible) that (science) worked in the (develop) of a new (transport) system?