If a noun describes an object, what does hope look like? A quick grammar guide.

What is a noun?

I once thought that it was an easy question to answer and certainly, it is one that many people would immediately say is a naming wordIt describes an object such as the word table or coat.   But what about the word hope or revenge?  Where is the object then?

We could say that they describe an object or an intangible or abstract concept which is where hope and revenge fit in.

There are several subclasses of nouns:

It can be a common noun:  cat

It can be a proper noun:  Sarah, America

Common nouns can be ‘count’ nouns:  six apples

Common nouns can be ‘noncount’ nouns:  music (never musics)

And count and noncount nouns can be either concrete (cat, table, music, grass) or abstract (dream, thought, luck, health)

Singular and plural

Many nouns have distinctive singular and plural forms.  The plural of regular nouns is formed by adding an -s to the singular:  cats, tables, apples

There are, however, many nouns that are irregular and which do not form a plural in this way – child→ children, woman →women, babybabies.

Possessive Nouns

In English, it is possible to show ownership or possession.  This can be done by adding an apostrophe and -s or sometimes by only adding an apostrophe ( see post:

the girl’s blouse (ie:  the blouse belongs to the girl)

Sarah’s shoes

my friend’s house

James’ pen

This last example is up for debate; this is the correct form but there is some difference of opinion and stylistic variations (see: Help…….Where s’hould that apos’t’rophe be?)

Noun Phrases

Nouns are frequently preceded by a determiner that forms part of a noun phrase.

The cat – cat is the noun and the is known as a determiner.

A determiner is a small class of words which are used at the beginning of noun phrases.  There is usually only one determiner in a noun phrase.

A noun phrase is a group of words in which the noun is the word that is the most important one in terms of understanding eg

the cat is a simple noun phrase.

the old cat is a noun phrase:  it is the cat that is the essential item here as the word old cannot stand alone; it requires another word to make meaning clear.

the bar of chocolate is also a noun phrase but in this case, it is the word bar that is the important item in the phrase; chocolate provides further information and understanding but is not the essential  (or head) noun.


If you want to test your knowledge, the following is a useful link:


If you need any more information or advice on nouns, please post a comment.  More than happy to help!


Crystal, D. 2000. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge Univerity Press

http://www.english-grammar-revolution.com/what-is-a-noun.html [accessed online 2/2/15

The power of words


In the beginning, on my ABOUT page, I set you the challenge of thinking about the many ways in which you understand words.

The word that I had thought of was girl.   What do you think of when you hear/read this word?

Take a moment and, before reading further, mind map this word for yourself.


My mind is littered with a jumble of definitions, of words, of associations.  I can visualise my own mind map with all the ways in which I understand this word. But where do I start?


At this initial stage of thinking, you can see I am interested in the word itself and only just beginning to consider the meaning of the word. But that is the next stage?

The dictionary suggests that a girl is defined as:

noun \ˈgər(-ə)l\

: a female child

: a young woman

: a usually young woman from a specified kind of place

Full Definition of GIRL


a :  a female child from birth to adulthood

:  daughter

c :  a young unmarried woman

d sometimes offensive :  a single or married woman of any age


a :  sweetheart

b sometimes offensive :  a female servant or employee


Examples of GIRL

Is this your little girl?

a group of teenage girls

His parents hope he’ll soon find a nice girl, settle down, and get married.

Wait till the girls back home hear about this!

Our boss thinks of herself as just one of the girls.

She went out dancing with the girls.

They just hired a new girl to do the filing.



Although in some ways, my understanding of the word girl coincides with that of the dictionary, a definition on its own is not enough.  Words have meanings to us which go beyond the remit of a dictionary. Language is a living entity and we use it in a way that suits us socially according to our age, experience and friendship groups. We use language professionally and even geographically.

Words are less about the actual definitions and more about the meanings that we attach to them. For each word we use, we carry a map in our heads that contains all the information and meanings that we have for a particular word.

powerful The word girl, for me, connotes a female emerging from childhood to adulthood, bringing with her strength and power.  A girl is joyful, she is about community.

In British, and I am sure other Western societies, the term girl is also used in other ways that do not coincide with my initial thoughts. The term girl can used in seemingly inappropriate ways; in the examples of usage provided by the dictionary, we can see that the term is used in a context of employment – ‘They just hired a girl to do the filing’.   Although the employee is possibly (but not always) young, I would question the appropriateness of this usage. Is the 45 year old filing clerk still ‘a girl’? And if so, what does that suggest to the recipient of this sentence?  It suggests that there is a disproportionate power relationship between employee and employer. I would like to suggest that it negates the valuable life/work experience of the employee and in turn disempowers her.

The word girl can be an inflammatory term, depending on who is using it.  Obviously using it according to the dictionary definition is acceptable.  But, are you going to cause offence in other situations? Are you using it in a way that empowers you over those of whom you are speaking?

The word girl is a useful example of a word which can be used as a tool of power and disempowerment in the English language. But there are many others. In mapping our thoughts about a word or phrase, we can gain greater understanding of ways in which definitions are corrupted by meaning, by the meaning that our particular society places on them.

Although we may laugh at the ‘politically correct’ brigade’s call to change the words we use, there is real purpose to their work. We should choose words with care and use them cautiously; words have power over us all and we can be enabled or disabled by the way in which they are applied.

Front Cover For more information on this subject , this is a useful book to read.