Knowledge of Language


Four basic types

Nouns are fairly straightforward in English. They are sorted into four basic types.

Common nouns

The simplest of all nouns. These name the aspects of our world that we can access by our senses:

man, girl, table, place, town…

Proper nouns

These name particular examples of common nouns. They always have a capital letter:  

John, Anne, Strathclyde University, Edinburgh…

Abstract nouns

These name such things as feelings, ideas, attitudes, qualities and the like:

fear, happiness, interest, strength…

Collective nouns 

These name groups:

team, committee, group, flock…

Singular and plural


Singular simply describes how we show that a noun names one person, place, animal or thing.

boy, girl, child, man, mouse...


A plural noun is one that names more than one person, place, animal or thing.

Plurals are formed by:

  • Adding letters to the singular usually, but not always, -s:
    boys, girls, children...
  • Changing the letters of the singular:
    men, mice...


The possessive version of a noun is the one that shows the noun 'owns' something.

We make the possessive form of a noun by using an apostrophe:
  • John’s bike
  • My daughters exam results
  • The pupils’ pencils

The rule about how to do this is one of the most misunderstood in the English language. You will find more information on using apostrophes in the Punctuation section of this guide.