English Language Guide: Noun

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Nouns form the largest word class. They denote "classes and categories of things in the world, including people, animals, inanimate things, places, events, qualities and states." Nouns are not commonly identified by their form; however, some common suffixes such as "-age" ("shrinkage"), "-hood" ("sisterhood"), "-ism" ("journalism"), "-ist" ("lyricist"), "-ment" ("adornment"), "-ship" ("companionship"), "-tude" ("latitude"), and so forth, are usually identifiers of nouns. There are exceptions, of course: "assuage" and "disparage" are verbs; "augment" is a verb, "lament" and "worship" can be verbs. Nouns can also be created by conversion of verbs or adjectives. Examples include the nouns in: "a boring talk," "a five-week run," "the long caress," "the utter disdain," and so forth.
Noun phrases are phrases that function grammatically as nouns within sentences. In addition, nouns serve as "heads," or main words of noun phrases. Examples (the heads are in boldface):
  • "The burnt-out ends of smoky days."
  • "The real raw-knuckle boys who know what fighting means, ..."
  • "The idle spear and shield ..."
The head can have modifiers, a complement, or both. Modifiers can occur before the head ("The real raw-knuckle boys ...," or "The burnt-out ends ..." and they are then called pre-modifiers; or, they can occur after the head ("who know what fighting means ...") and are called post-modifiers. Example: "The rough, seamy-faced, raw-boned College Servitor ..." The pre-modifying phrase, for example, is composed of determiners ("The"), adjectives ("rough," "seamy-faced," ...) and other nouns ("College").
Complements occur after the head as well; however, they are essential for completing the meaning of the noun phrase in a way that post-modifiers are not. Examples (complements are italicized; heads are in boldface):
  • "The burnt-out ends of smoky days."
  • "The suggestion that Mr. Touchett should invite me appeared to have come from Miss Stackpole."
  • "The ancient pulse of germ and birth was shrunken hard and dry."
Within a sentence, a noun phrase can be a part of the grammatical subject, the object, or the complement. Examples (the noun phrase is italicized, and the head boldfaced):
  • grammatical subject: "Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest."
  • object: "Dr. Pavlov ... delivered many long propagandaharangues ..."
  • complement: "'All they see is some frumpy, wrinkled-up person passing by in a carriage waving at a crowd."