Noun and its grammatical categories

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1. What is Noun?

2. Semantical Characteristics of English Nouns

3. The Category of Case

4. The Category of Number of English Nouns




The theme of my course paper sounds as following: «English Nouns and Their Grammatical Categories». Before beginning of investigation in our theme I would like to say some words dealt with the theme of my course paper.

The noun is a word expressing substance in the widest sense of the word. In the concept of substance we include not only names of living beings (e.g. boy girl bird) and lifeless things (e.g. table chair book) but also names of abstract notions i.e. qualities slates actions (kindness strength sleep fear conversation fight) abstracted from their bearers. In speech these types of nouns are treated in different ways so one who does not know ways of treatment can make mistakes in his speech.

Standing on such ground I would like to point out tasks and aims of my work

1. The first task of my work is to give definition to term «Noun».

2. Second task is to describe main features of English nouns.

3. And the last task is to describe grammatical categories that nouns possesses.

In our opinion the practical significance of our work is hard to be overvalued. This work reflects modern trends in linguistics and we hope it would serve as a good manual for those who wants to master modern English language.

The present work might find a good way of implying in the following spheres:

1. In High Schools and scientific circles of linguistic kind it can be successfully used by teachers and philologists as modern material for writing research works dealing with English nouns.

2. It can be used by teachers of schools lyceums and colleges by teachers of English as a practical manual for teaching English grammar.

3. It can be useful for everyone who wants to enlarge his/her knowledge in English.

The present course paper consists of four parts: introduction the main part conclusion and bibliography. Within the introduction part which includes two items we gave the brief description of our qualification work (the first item) and gave general notion of the word «noun». The main part of our qualification work includes several items. There we discussed such problems as definition of nouns main features of English nouns their grammatical categories. In the conclusion to our qualification work we tried to draw some results from the scientific investigations made within the main part of our qualification work. In bibliography part we mentioned more than 20 sources of which were used while compiling the present work. It includes linguistic books and articles dealing with the theme a number of used dictionaries and encyclopedias and also some internet sources.


1. What is Noun?

The word «noun» comes from the Latin nomen meaning «name». Word classes like nouns were first described by Sanskrit grammarian Panini and ancient Greeks like Dionysius Thorax and defined in terms of their morphological properties. For example in Ancient Greece nouns can be inflected for grammatical case such as dative or accusative. Verbs on the other hand can be inflected for tenses such as past present or future while nouns cannot. Aristotle also had a notion of onomata (nouns) and rhemata (verbs) which however does not exactly correspond our notions of verbs and nouns. In her dissertation Vinokurova has a more detailed discussion of the historical origin of the notion of a noun.

Expressions of natural language will have properties at different levels. They have formal properties like what kinds of morphological prefixes or suffixes they can take and what kinds of other expressions they can combine with. but they also have semantic properties i.e. properties pertaining to their meaning. The definition of nouns on the top of this page is thus a formal definition. That definition is uncontroversial and has the advantage that it allows us to effectively distinguish nouns from non-nouns. However it has the disadvandage that it does not apply to nouns in all languages. For example in Russian there are no definite articles so one cannot define nouns by means of those. There are also several attempts of defining nouns in terms of their semantic properties. Many of these are controversial but some are discussed below.

In traditional school grammars 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 or idea etc. This is a semantic definition. It has been criticized by contemporary linguists as being quite uninformative. Part of the problem is that the definition makes use of relatively general nouns («thing» «phenomenon» «event») to define what nouns are. The existence of such general nouns shows us that nouns are organized in taxonomic hierarchies. But other kinds of expressions are also organized in hierarchies. For example all of the verbs «stroll» «saunter » «stride » and «tread» are more specific words than the more general «walk.» The latter is more specific than the verb «move»/ But it is unlikely that such hierarchies can be used to define nouns and verbs. Furthermore an influential theory has it that verbs like «kill» or «die» refer to events and so they fall under the definition. Similarly adjectives like «yellow» or «difficult» might be thought to refer to qualities and adverbs like «outside» or «upstairs» seem to refer to places. Worse still a trip into the woods can be referred to by the verbs «stroll» or «walk»/ But verbs adjectives and adverbs are not nouns and nouns aren't verbs. So the definition is not particularly helpful in distinguishing nouns from other parts of speech.

Another semantic definition of nouns is that they are prototypically referential. That definition is also not very helpful in distinguishing actual nouns from verbs. But it may still correctly identify a core property of nounhood. For example we will tend to use nouns like «fool» and «car» when we wish to refer to fools and cars respectively. The notion that this is prototypical reflects the fact that such nouns can be used even though nothing with the corresponding property is referred to:

John is no fool.

If I had a car I'd go to Marrakech.

The first sentence above doesn't refer to any fools nor does the second one refer to any particular car.

In most cases in treating English nouns we shall keep to the conception of scientists that we refer to post-structural tendency It's because they combine the ideas of traditional and structural grammarians. The noun is classified into a separate word – group because:

1. they all have the same lexical – grammatical meaning:

substance / thing

2. according to their form – they've two grammatical categories:

number and case

3. they all have typical stem-building elements:

– er – ist – ship – ment – hood….

4. typical combinability with other words:

most often left-hand combinability.

5. function – the most characteristic feature of nouns is – they can be observed in all syntactic functions but predicate.

From the grammatical point of view most important is the division of nouns into countable and un-countable with regard to the category of number and into declinable and indeclinable with regard to the category of case[1].

2. Semantical Characteristics of English Nouns

Nouns fall under two classes: (A) proper nouns; (B) common nouns[2].

a) Proper nouns are individual names given to separate persons or things. As regards their meaning proper nouns may be personal names (Mary Peter Shakespeare) geographical names (Moscow London the Caucasus) the names of the months and of the days of the week (February Monday) names of ships hotels clubs etc.

A large number of nouns now proper were originally common nouns (Brown Smith Mason).

Proper nouns may change their meaning and become common nouns:

«George went over to the table and took a sandwich and a glass of champagne. (Aldington)

b) Common nouns are names that can be applied to any individual of ad ass of persons or things (e.g. man dog book) collections of similar individuals or things regarded as a single unit (e. g. peasantry family) materials (e. g. snow iron cotton) or abstract notions (e.g. kindness development).

Thus there are different groups of common nouns: class nouns collective nouns nouns of material and abstract nouns.

1. Class nouns denote persons or things belonging to a class. They are countable and have two. numbers: singular and plural. They are generally used with an article.

«Well sir» said Mrs. Parker «I wasn't in the shop above a great deal.» (Mansfield)

He goes to the part of the town where the shops are. (Lessing)

2. Collective nouns denote a number or collection of similar individuals or things as a single unit.

Collective nouns fall under the following groups:

(a)     nouns used only in the singular and denoting-a number of things collected together and regarded as a single object: foliage machinery.

It was not restful that green foliage. (London)

Machinery new to the industry in Australia was introduced for preparing land. (Agricultural Gazette)

(b)     nouns which are singular in form though plural in meaning:

police poultry cattle people gentry They are usually called nouns of multitude. When the subject of the sentence is a noun of multitude the verb used as predicate is in the plural:

I had no idea the police were so devilishly prudent. (Shaw)

Unless cattle are in good condition in calving milk production will never reach a high level. (Agricultural Gazette)

The weather was warm and the people were sitting at their doors. (Dickens)

(c) nouns that may be both singular and plural: family crowd fleet nation. We can think of a number of crowds fleets or different nations as well as of a single crowd fleet etc.

A small crowd is lined up to see the guests arrive. (Shaw)

Accordingly they were soon afoot and walking in the direction of the scene of action towards which crowds of people were already pouring from a variety of quarters. (Dickens)

3. Nouns of material denote material: iron gold paper tea water. They are uncountable and are generally used without any article.

There was a scent of honey from the lime-trees in flower. (Galsworthy)

There was coffee still in the urn. (Wells)

Nouns of material are used in the plural to denote different sorts of a given material.

… that his senior counted upon him in this enterprise and had consigned a quantity of select wines to him… (Thackeray)

Nouns of material may turn into class nouns (thus becoming countable) when they come to express an individual object of definite shape.


– To the left were clean panes of glass. (Ch. Bronte)

«He came in here » said the waiter looking at the light through the tumbler «ordered a glass of this ale.» (Dickens)

But the person in the glass made a face at her and Miss Moss went out. (Mansfield).

4. Abstract nouns denote some quality state action or idea: kindness sadness fight. They are usually uncountable though some of them may be countable.

Therefore when the youngsters saw that mother looked neither frightened nor offended they gathered new courage. (Dodge)

Accustomed to John Reed's abuse – I never had an idea of plying it. (Ch. Bronte)

It's these people with fixed ideas. (Galsworthy)

Abstract nouns may change their meaning and become class nouns. This change is marked by the use of the article and of the plural number:

beauty        a beauty     beauties

sight           a sight        sights

He was responsive to beauty and here was cause to respond. (London)

She was a beauty. (Dickens)

… but she isn't one of those horrid regular beauties. (Aldington)


3. The Category of Case

The category of case of nouns is the system of opposites (such as girl–girl's in English дом – дома – дому – дом – домом – (о) доме in Russian) showing the relations of the noun to other words in speech. Case relations reflect the relations of the substances the nouns name to other substances actions states etc. in the world of reality [3]. In the sentence ‘I took John's hat by mistake’ the case of the noun ‘John's’ shows its relation to the noun hat which is some reflection of the relations between John and his hat in reality.

Case is one of those categories which show the close connection:

(a) between language and speech

(b) between morphology and syntax.

(a) A case opposite is like any other opposite a unit of the language system but the essential difference between the members of a case opposite is in their combinability in speech. This is particularly clear in a language like Russian with a developed case system. Compare for instance the combinability of the nominative case and that of the oblique cases. See also the difference in the combinability of each oblique case: одобрять поступок не одобрять поступка удивляться поступку восхищаться поступком etc.

We can see here that the difference between the cases is not so much a matter of meaning as a matter of combinability. It can be said that поступок – поступка – поступку etc. are united paradigmatically in the Russian language on the basis of their syntagmatic differences in speech. Similarly the members of the case opposite John – John's are united paradigmatically on the basis of their syntagmatic differences.

Naturally both members of an English noun case opposite have the features of English nouns including their combinability. Thus they may be preceded by an article an adjective a numeral a pronoun etc.

a student….                  a student's…

the student…                the student's…

a good student…           a good student's…

his brother…                 his brother's…

the two brothers…        the two brothers'…

Yet the common case grammemes are used in a variety of combinations where the possessive case grammemes do not as a rule occur.

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