Noun

Noun

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In linguistics
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, a noun is a member of a large, open
Open class (linguistics)
In linguistics, a word class may be either an open class or a closed class. Open classes accept the addition of new morphemes , through such processes as compounding, derivation, inflection, coining, and borrowing; closed classes generally do not....

 lexical category
Lexical category
In grammar, a part of speech is a linguistic category of words , which is generally defined by the syntactic or morphological behaviour of the lexical item in question. Common linguistic categories include noun and verb, among others...

 whose members can occur as the main word in the subject
Subject (grammar)
The subject is one of the two main constituents of a clause, according to a tradition that can be tracked back to Aristotle and that is associated with phrase structure grammars; the other constituent is the predicate. According to another tradition, i.e...

 of a clause
Clause
In grammar, a clause is the smallest grammatical unit that can express a complete proposition. In some languages it may be a pair or group of words that consists of a subject and a predicate, although in other languages in certain clauses the subject may not appear explicitly as a noun phrase,...

, the object
Object (grammar)
An object in grammar is part of a sentence, and often part of the predicate. It denotes somebody or something involved in the subject's "performance" of the verb. Basically, it is what or whom the verb is acting upon...

 of a verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

, or the object of a preposition (or put more simply, a noun is a word used to name a person, animal, place, thing or abstract idea).

Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of expressions. The syntactic rules for nouns differ from language to language. In English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, nouns may be defined as those words which can occur with articles and attributive adjectives
Adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

 and can function as the head
Head (linguistics)
In linguistics, the head is the word that determines the syntactic type of the phrase of which it is a member, or analogously the stem that determines the semantic category of a compound of which it is a component. The other elements modify the head....

 of a noun phrase
Noun phrase
In grammar, a noun phrase, nominal phrase, or nominal group is a phrase based on a noun, pronoun, or other noun-like word optionally accompanied by modifiers such as adjectives....

.

In traditional
Traditional grammar
In linguistics, a traditional grammar is a framework for the description of the structure of language. Traditional grammars are commonly used in language education.Concepts treated in traditional grammars include:* subject* predicate* object...

 English grammar, the noun is one of the eight parts of speech.

History


Noun comes from the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 nōmen "name", a translation of Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 ónoma. Word classes like nouns were first described by in the Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 language and by Ancient Greek grammarians, and were defined by the grammatical forms
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 that they take. In Greek and Sanskrit, for example, nouns are categorized by gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

 and inflected for case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

 and number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

.

Because nouns and adjectives share these three categories, Dionysius Thrax
Dionysius Thrax
Dionysius Thrax was a Hellenistic grammarian and a pupil of Aristarchus of Samothrace. His place of origin was not Thrace as the epithet Thrax denotes, but probably Alexandria...

 does not clearly distinguish between the two, and uses the term ónoma "name" for both, although some of the words that he describes as paragōgón (pl. paragōgá) "derived" are adjectives.

Different definitions of nouns


Expressions of natural language
Natural language
In the philosophy of language, a natural language is any language which arises in an unpremeditated fashion as the result of the innate facility for language possessed by the human intellect. A natural language is typically used for communication, and may be spoken, signed, or written...

 have properties at different levels. They have formal properties, like what kinds of morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 prefix
Prefix
A prefix is an affix which is placed before the root of a word. Particularly in the study of languages,a prefix is also called a preformative, because it alters the form of the words to which it is affixed.Examples of prefixes:...

es or suffix
Suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

es they take and what kinds of other expressions they combine with; but they also have semantic
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 properties, i.e. properties pertaining to their meaning. The definition of a noun at the outset of this article is thus a formal, traditional grammatical definition. That definition, for the most part, is considered uncontroversial and furnishes the means for users of certain languages to effectively distinguish most nouns from non-nouns. However, it has the disadvantage that it does not apply to nouns in all languages. For example in Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

, there are no definite articles, so one cannot define nouns as words that are modified by definite articles. There have also been several attempts to define nouns in terms of their semantic
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 properties. Many of these are controversial, but some are discussed below.

Names for things



In traditional school grammars
Traditional grammar
In linguistics, a traditional grammar is a framework for the description of the structure of language. Traditional grammars are commonly used in language education.Concepts treated in traditional grammars include:* subject* predicate* object...

, one often encounters the definition of nouns that they are all and only those expressions that refer to a person, place, thing, event, substance, quality, quantity, or idea, etc. This is a semantic definition. It has been criticized by contemporary linguists as being uninformative. Contemporary linguists generally agree that one cannot successfully define nouns (or other grammatical categories) in terms of what sort of object in the world they refer
Reference
Reference is derived from Middle English referren, from Middle French rèférer, from Latin referre, "to carry back", formed from the prefix re- and ferre, "to bear"...

 to
or signify
Sign (semiotics)
A sign is understood as a discrete unit of meaning in semiotics. It is defined as "something that stands for something, to someone in some capacity" It includes words, images, gestures, scents, tastes, textures, sounds – essentially all of the ways in which information can be...

. Part of the conundrum is that the definition makes use of relatively general nouns (thing, phenomenon, event) to define what nouns are.

The existence of such general nouns demonstrates that nouns refer to entities that are organized in taxonomic
Taxonomy
Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into a classification. The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as "biological taxonomy", revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa...

 hierarchies. But other kinds of expressions are also organized into such structured taxonomic relationships. For example the verbs stroll, saunter, stride, and tread are more specific words than the more general walk – see Troponymy
Troponymy
Troponymy is the presence of a ‘manner’ relation between two lexemes.The notion was originally proposed by Christiane Fellbaum and George Miller. Some examples they gave are “to nibble is to eat in a certain manner, and to gorge is to eat in a different manner...

. Moreover, walk is more specific than the verb move, which, in turn, is less general than change. But it is unlikely that such taxonomic relationships can be used to define nouns and verbs. We cannot define verbs as those words that refer to changes or states, for example, because the nouns change and state probably refer to such things, but, of course, are not verbs. Similarly, nouns like invasion, meeting, or collapse refer to things that are done or happen. In fact, an influential theory
Theory
The English word theory was derived from a technical term in Ancient Greek philosophy. The word theoria, , meant "a looking at, viewing, beholding", and referring to contemplation or speculation, as opposed to action...

 has it that verbs like kill or die refer to events, one of the categories of things that nouns are supposed to refer to.

The point being made here is not that this view of verbs is wrong, but rather that this property of verbs is a poor basis for a definition of this category, just like the property of having wheels is a poor basis for a definition of cars (some things that have wheels, such as most suitcases or a jumbo jet, aren't cars). Similarly, adjectives like yellow or difficult might be thought to refer to qualities, and adverbs like outside or upstairs seem to refer to places, which are also among the sorts of things nouns can refer to. But verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are not nouns, and nouns are not verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. One might argue that definitions of this sort really rely on speakers' prior intuitive knowledge of what nouns, verbs, and adjectives are, and so do not really add anything. Speakers' intuitive knowledge of such things might plausibly be based on formal criteria, such as the traditional grammatical definition of English nouns aforementioned.

Predicates with identity criteria



The British logician Peter Thomas Geach proposed a more subtle semantic definition of nouns. He noticed that adjectives like "same" can modify nouns, but no other kinds of parts of speech, like verbs or adjectives. Not only that, but there also do not seem to be any other expressions with similar meaning that can modify verbs and adjectives. Consider the following examples.
grammatical: John and Bill participated in the same fight.
ungrammatical: *John and Bill samely fought.

There is no English adverb samely. In some other languages, like Czech, however there are adverbs corresponding to samely. Hence, in Czech, the translation of the last sentence would be fine; however, it would mean that John and Bill fought in the same way: not that they participated in the same fight. Geach proposed that we could explain this, if nouns denote logical predicates
Predicate (grammar)
There are two competing notions of the predicate in theories of grammar. Traditional grammar tends to view a predicate as one of two main parts of a sentence, the other being the subject, which the predicate modifies. The other understanding of predicates is inspired from work in predicate calculus...

  with identity criteria. An identity criterion would allow us to conclude, for example, that person x at time 1 is the same person as person y at time 2. Different nouns can have different identity criteria. A well known example of this is due to Gupta:
National Airlines transported 2 million passengers in 1979.
National Airlines transported (at least) 2 million persons in 1979.

Given that, in general, all passengers are persons, the last sentence above ought to follow logically from the first one. But it doesn't. It is easy to imagine, for example, that on average, every person who travelled with National Airlines in 1979, travelled with them twice. In that case, one would say that the airline transported 2 million passengers but only 1 million persons. Thus, the way that we count passengers isn't necessarily the same as the way that we count persons. Put somewhat differently: At two different times, you may correspond to two distinct passengers, even though you are one and the same person. For a precise definition of identity criteria, see Gupta.

Prototypically referential expressions



Another semantic definition of nouns is that they are prototypically referential.

Recently, Mark Baker
Mark Baker (linguist)
Mark C. Baker is an American linguist. He received his Ph. D. from MIT in 1985 and has taught at Rutgers since 1998. Prof. Baker has frequently been a faculty member at the Linguistic Society of America's Summer Institute and, prior to coming to Rutgers, was a faculty member at McGill University...

 has proposed that Geach's definition of nouns in terms of identity criteria allows us to explain the characteristic properties of nouns. He argues that nouns can co-occur with (in-)definite articles and numerals, and are prototypically referential because they are all and only those parts of speech that provide identity criteria. Baker's proposals are quite new, and linguists are still evaluating them.

Proper nouns and common nouns



A proper noun or proper name is a noun representing unique entities (such as London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, Jupiter
Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

, Larry, or Toyota), as distinguished from common nouns which describe a class of entities (such as city, planet, person or car).

Agent nouns



Agent nouns are usually common nouns (although they may be proper nouns, such as in titles or adopted surname
Surname
A surname is a name added to a given name and is part of a personal name. In many cases, a surname is a family name. Many dictionaries define "surname" as a synonym of "family name"...

s) that take the form of a subject (typically a person) performing an action (verb). Examples in English are maker (from to make), teacher (from to teach), and actor and actress (from to act).

Countable and uncountable nouns



Count nouns are common nouns that can take a plural
Plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

, can combine with numerals
Numeral system
A numeral system is a writing system for expressing numbers, that is a mathematical notation for representing numbers of a given set, using graphemes or symbols in a consistent manner....

 or quantifiers (e.g., one, two, several, every, most), and can take an indefinite article (a or an). Examples of count nouns are chair, nose, and occasion.

Mass nouns (or non-count nouns) differ from count nouns in precisely that respect: they can't take plural or combine with number words or quantifiers. Examples from English include laughter, cutlery, helium, and furniture. For example, it is not possible to refer to a furniture or three furnitures. This is true even though the pieces of furniture comprising furniture could be counted. Thus the distinction between mass and count nouns should not be made in terms of what sorts of things the nouns refer to, but rather in terms of how the nouns present these entities.

Collective nouns



Collective nouns are nouns that refer to groups consisting of more than one individual or entity, even when they are inflected for the singular
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

. Examples include committee, herd, and school (of fish). These nouns have slightly different grammatical properties than other nouns. For example, the noun phrases that they head
Head (linguistics)
In linguistics, the head is the word that determines the syntactic type of the phrase of which it is a member, or analogously the stem that determines the semantic category of a compound of which it is a component. The other elements modify the head....

 can serve as the subject
Subject (grammar)
The subject is one of the two main constituents of a clause, according to a tradition that can be tracked back to Aristotle and that is associated with phrase structure grammars; the other constituent is the predicate. According to another tradition, i.e...

 of a collective predicate, even when they are inflected for the singular.

Concrete nouns and abstract nouns



Concrete nouns refer to physical entities that can, in principle at least, be observed by at least one of the sense
Sense
Senses are physiological capacities of organisms that provide inputs for perception. The senses and their operation, classification, and theory are overlapping topics studied by a variety of fields, most notably neuroscience, cognitive psychology , and philosophy of perception...

s (for instance, chair, apple, Janet or atom). Abstract nouns, on the other hand, refer to abstract object
Abstract object
An abstract object is an object which does not exist at any particular time or place, but rather exists as a type of thing . In philosophy, an important distinction is whether an object is considered abstract or concrete. Abstract objects are sometimes called abstracta An abstract object is an...

s; that is, ideas or concepts (such as justice or hatred). While this distinction is sometimes exclusive, some nouns have multiple senses, including both concrete and abstract ones; consider, for example, the noun art, which usually refers to a concept (e.g., Art is an important element of human culture) but which can refer to a specific artwork in certain contexts (e.g., I put my daughter's art up on the fridge).

Some abstract nouns developed etymologically by figurative extension from literal roots. These include drawback, fraction, holdout, and uptake. Similarly, some nouns have both abstract and concrete senses, with the latter having developed by figurative extension from the former. These include view, filter, structure, and key.

In English, many abstract nouns are formed by adding noun-forming suffixes (-ness, -ity, -ion) to adjectives or verbs. Examples are happiness (from the adjective happy), circulation (from the verb circulate) and serenity (from the adjective serene).

Noun phrases



A noun phrase is a phrase based on a noun, pronoun, or other noun-like word (nominal) optionally accompanied by modifiers such as adjectives.

Pronouns



Nouns and noun phrases can typically be replaced by pronoun
Pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

s, such as he, it, which, and those, in order to avoid repetition or explicit identification, or for other reasons. For example, in the sentence Janet thought that he was weird, the word he is a pronoun standing in place of the name of the person in question. The English word one can replace parts of noun phrases, and it sometimes stands in for a noun. An example is given below:
John's car is newer than the one that Bill has.

But one can also stand in for bigger subparts of a noun phrase. For example, in the following example, one can stand in for new car.
This new car is cheaper than that one.

Substantive as a word for noun



Starting with old Latin grammars, many European languages use some form of the word substantive as the basic term for noun (for example, Spanish sustantivo, "noun"). Nouns in the dictionaries of such languages are demarked by the abbreviation s. or sb. instead of n, which may be used for proper nouns instead. This corresponds to those grammars in which nouns and adjectives phase into each other in more areas than, for example, the English term predicate adjective entails. In French and Spanish, for example, adjectives frequently act as nouns referring to people who have the characteristics of the adjective. The most common metalanguage to name this concept is nominalization
Nominalization
In linguistics, nominalization or nominalisation is the use of a verb, an adjective, or an adverb as the head of a noun phrase, with or without morphological transformation...

. An example in English is:
This legislation will have the most impact on the poor.

Similarly, an adjective can also be used for a whole group or organization of people:
The Socialist International.

Hence, these words are substantives that are usually adjectives in English.

The word nominal
Nominal (linguistics)
In linguistics, a nominal is a part of speech in some languages that shares features with nouns and adjectives.- Examples :Nominals are a common feature of Indigenous Australian languages, many of which do not categorically differentiate nouns from adjectives.Some features of nominals in some...

also overlaps in meaning and usage with noun and adjective.

See also

  • Description
    Description
    Description is one of four rhetorical modes , along with exposition, argumentation, and narration. Each of the rhetorical modes is present in a variety of forms and each has its own purpose and conventions....

  • Grammatical case
    Grammatical case
    In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

  • Phi features
    Phi features
    Phi features is a linguistic term to describe the semantic features of person, number and gender, as encoded in words such as nouns and pronouns...

  • Reference
    Reference
    Reference is derived from Middle English referren, from Middle French rèférer, from Latin referre, "to carry back", formed from the prefix re- and ferre, "to bear"...



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