English Grammar Lesson 1 – Nouns (Parts of speech 1)

When learning a foreign language, you’ll learn more about grammar than perhaps you were taught in English, if it is your native tongue. I find that because English has less of a case system, then often people don’t pay much attention to the roles of words and cases in the language, and this can present a challenge when learning a foreign language, and suddenly you have to rack your brains for those elementary school lessons on “subject” and “object”! In the English grammar lessons, I will try to present grammar concepts in a way that makes them easy to grasp, and aids you when coming to learn a foreign language where words may decline whether they are the subject, object, direct object, and so on. When grammar in your native tongue becomes second-nature, then it makes life so much easier in your second+ tongues, and conversely, I often find that learning about grammar in another language aids my English, such as learning aspect of verbs from Russian more clearly than I did in English or German.

In this lesson, I’ll elucidate the eight parts of speech, which I think most people would already know anyway, but it makes more sense to begin from basics, and a refresher is never a bad idea!


PARTS OF SPEECH

In general, there are said to be eight parts of speech. These are: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction and interjection. This lesson will cover nouns.

NOUNS

A noun is a “naming word”, which covers many aspects such as people (“man”, “Michael”), things (“pencil”, “body”), abstract concepts (“cowardice”, “fear”), quality (“sweetness”, “obesity”), and places (“Scotland”, “seaside”). In general, if you can say “the ____”, that word is a noun; “the apple”, “the army”, “a delegation”, “a feeling”.

They inflect (or change their form) to form plurals, which is usually the addition of -s, such as “boy” → “boys”, but this is not always the case. Common irregular plurals are “child” → “children”, and forms from Greek (“phenomenon” → “phenomena”, “stigma” → “stigmata”) and Latin (“radius” → “radii”, “alumna” → “alumnae”).

In some languages, nouns are also assigned genders, usually a combination of masculine, feminine and neuter. For example, French has two genders, masculine and feminine, where the articles (“a” and “the”) change depending on the gender; “the boy” → “le garçon”, but “the girl” → “la fille”. In German, there is the addition of a neuter gender; “the man” → “der Mann”, “the woman” → “die Frau”, and “the car” → “das Auto”. While I have used examples that do have biological gender, be aware that every noun is assigned a gender, and actually grammatical gender does not always correspond to physical gender; “girl” is actually neuter in German: “das Mädchen”. Nouns that don’t have any level of physical gender are not always neuter: in French, “le fromage” (“cheese”), “la ville” (“town”); in German, “der Computer” (“computer”), “die Freiheit” (“freedom”), “das Hemd” (“shirt”).

Nouns have various classifications. One such is common nouns versus proper nouns. Proper nouns are those that refer to the name of someone (“John”, “Mary”), locations (“London”, “India”, “Walmart”), or the names of things (“Ferrari”, “iPod”). Common nouns, on the other hand, describe groups of proper nouns, e.g. “car”, “city”, “person”.

Another classification is the concrete noun versus the abstract noun. A concrete noun is something that actually exists physically, that you can touch, see, hear, smell or taste, (“leg”, “light”, “noise”). An abstract noun describes an abstract concept, such as an idea or quality (“freedom”, “justice”, “rowdiness”).

Some nouns are countable, where you can say “a ____”, such as “a book”, “two boys”, “three rooms”, and these are called count nouns. Mass nouns, on the other hand, are those that cannot be counted; you cannot say “a ___” and they usually exist in either only singular form (“sand”) or plural form (“jeans”). While you can say “three grains of sand” or “two pairs of jeans”, you can’t say “a sand”, “two sands”, “a jeans”, “two jeans”.

Some nouns are collective, such as “government”, “team”, “band”, where the noun itself is generally singular, but refers to many people or things. Here is where many people make mistakes – when should you use singular verbs and when plural verbs? The general consensus is that you use singular when treating the group as a whole: “The government has passed several laws”, “The band is touring South America”, while you use a plural noun when considering the individual members: “The band are fighting amongst themselves“, making use of the plural “themselves” as well, rather than singular “itself”.

Various nouns are so-called compound nouns, which are often but not always hyphenated: “mother-in-law”, “Poet Laureate”, “. The thing to watch here is pluralizing them; for example, in “mother-in-law”, “in-law” is an adjectival phrase added onto the noun, while “mother” is the base noun, therefore you pluralize “mother” → “mothers-in-law”, NOT “mother-in-laws”. This can also happen with non-hyphenated examples, where one part is the base noun; “Poets Laureate”, NOT “Poet Laureates”. However, be careful to identify correctly which part to pluralize, as it’s not always the first word in the compound noun: “brigadier general” → “brigadier generals“, NOT “brigadiers general”.

Substantives are nouns that are formed from adjectives, such as “the dead”, “the living”, “the old”, “the young”.

Technically, pronouns are also nouns, as they replace the noun in a sentence. For example, in “She asked John” → “She asked him“, “him” is also a noun. This will be covered more in the lesson on pronouns.


Hopefully this clarified the different roles and classifications of nouns. In your journey of learning a foreign language, you will probably not need to work with all of these very often, but it’s always best to know this information behind the scenes, and indeed, it’s never a bad thing to learn more about English grammar! Please write me with any questions you may have, and I’ll do my best to clarify. See this page for contact details.

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