What is a Noun

What is a Noun: Here’s All You Need to Know About Nouns

Welcome to this learning platform where we shall learn about nouns. What is a noun, you may ask? Well, there are various ways in which people construe nouns. But let us see some descriptions.

What is a Noun?

In a layman’s term, a noun is generally a name, a content word that is used to refer to anything; a name tag or a label by which something is known; that is, a signifying word.

The definition above virtually describes what a noun is; but you need to know in details, for proper understanding, other ways by which a noun can be easily identified.

Now follow me as I take you on step by step…

Grammatical Category of a Noun

A noun belongs to the grammatical category of words commonly referred to as Parts of Speech or Word Classes. A noun has been generally defined as the name of persons, places, animals or things. You must have used this definition at one time or the other. It could even be the only definition of a noun you know. Never bother, this is very true but there are numerous words that do not belong to any of these categories and they are still classified as nouns. Therefore, the definition of noun as the name of any person, place, animal or thing does not completely capture what a noun is.

Description of a Noun

So then, what is a noun? Rather than provide an overarching definition of a noun or a one-size-fits-all definition, it is expedient to describe a noun by what it does or how it appears – by its form and function. In other words, we will adopt a descriptive perspective to explaining the concept of a noun rather than a prescriptive approach which simply prescribes or defines. There are various ways to describe what a noun is:

Noun Functions

A noun is generally a name

Whatever you can think of that has a name is a noun. It is a content word that can be used to refer to anything: a person, a place, a thing, an animal, a concept, a quality, an idea, a feeling, a doctrine, a theory, an ideology, a state, etc. It can be a name tag for places, natural occurrences or disasters, persons, institutions, organisations, rivers, mountains, lakes, islands, continents, countries, states, districts, wards, areas, villages, cities, towns, hamlets, settlements, communities, oceans, seas, books, etc. or a label by which something is known; that is, a noun could be seen as what signifies anything – a signifier.

A noun is usually preceded by the article

A’, ‘AN’ or ‘THE’: This is another way to identify what a noun is. Just insert the article ‘a’ before it if it begins with a consonant and ‘an’ if it begins with a vowel. This is usually applicable to count nouns. Some words are nouns, but it is only the article ‘the’ that can precede them, especially non-count nouns. Once you do this and it makes sense, then what you have is a noun.

A noun is usually modified, qualified or described by adjectives

When you have a word an adjective precedes, the word is most likely a noun. Adjectives usually describe qualities possessed by other words. In some cases, a word that is naturally an adjectives could become a noun based on its functions or usage. Consider this example:

  • The rich people also complain.

‘Rich’ in this example is traditionally an adjective while the word ‘people’, preceded by the adjective ‘rich’, is a noun. Having established this, look at yet another example in which a natural adjective is made to function as a noun:

  • The rich also complain.

Based on usage or function, a traditional adjective has been made to function as a noun. This is also a way of identifying a noun. Consider another example:

  • The great Alexander conquered then whole empire.

(‘Great’ as used above is an adjective)

  • Alexander, the great conquered Greece and founded Alexandria

(‘Great’ as used here is a noun). Form and function are important concepts in identifying a noun.




A noun usually functions as the subject of a sentence

A sentence (the largest grammatical unit in the English Language) generally consists of a subject and the predicate. The subject is the actor, the performer or the initiator of the action in a sentence and it comes just before the verb in the sentence. The predicate consists of other grammatical elements in the sentence such as the verb, the object, the complement and the adverb or the adverbial. The subject of any sentence is usually a noun. Look at these examples:

  • The tall man is very kind to his dear wife.

(‘The tall man’), though a noun phrase, is the subject of the sentence. Subjects of sentences may not necessarily be made up of one word; they could comprise strings of words, but no matter the number of words they contain, they serve as the subject of the sentence.

A noun usually functions as the object of a sentence

The object of a sentence is usually the receiver of the action in a sentence. Just like the subject, an object of a sentence could be a word or a string of words; but the object of a sentence is usually a noun. Take a look at these examples:

  • The farmer killed a snake. (‘a snake’ is the object)
  • The team walloped its opponent. (‘its opponent’ is the object)

It will be good at this point to mention the types of objects that a noun can be. First, there is the Direct object and the Indirect object.

Consider the following illustrations:

  1. The man bought his wife a car.
  2. The governor bought the students a bus
  3. The architect designed his mother a detached duplex.

In each of the three examples above, we have both the direct and indirect objects. Let us look at them closely:

Direct Object Indirect Object
a car his wife
a bus the students
a detached duplex his mother

One way to differentiate between these two forms of objects is to ask the question ‘what was done?’ and ‘for whom was it done?’ a direct object answers the first question while the indirect object answers the second question.

‘a car’, in example (a)  is what was bought (direct object); ‘his wife’ is the recipient of what was bought (indirect object).

In example (b), ‘a bus’ is what was bought (direct object); ‘the students’ is for whom it was bought (indirect object).

In example (c), it is ‘a detached duplex’ that was designed (direct object) while ‘his mother’ is for whom the duplex was deigned (indirect object).

Note that in a sentence where the transitive verb has both direct and indirect objects, the indirect object comes directly after the transitive verb.

Differentiating Between Direct & Indirect Object

In a nutshell, understand that the direct object answers the question WHAT; while the indirect object answers the question FOR WHOM! Another way to differentiate between the two is that the indirect object can accommodate a preposition if the sentence is expanded while the direct object would not accommodate a preposition. Let us use the same examples above and introduce prepositions. This is what we will have:

  1. The man bought a car for his wife.
  2. The governor bought a bus for the students
  3. The architect designed a detached duplex for his mother.

A noun usually functions as the complement of the subject

This is similar to a noun functioning as an object of the sentence but with a slight difference. When a noun functions as the complement of the subject, a linking verb, usually the ‘be’ form of the verb is usually involved rather than a transitive verb. Consider the following examples:

  • Sola is a trader (‘a trader’, a noun phrase, is the complement of the subject).
  • The man is a shrewd business man (‘a shrewd business man’, a noun phrase, is the complement of the subject ‘the man’)
  • The boy became the villain nobody could ever believe (‘the villain nobody could ever believe’, a noun clause, is the complement of the subject ‘the boy’.

Note: Don’t forget that we did mention earlier that the subject of a sentence may not necessarily be made up of one word; it could be a string of words. But that no matter the number of words a subject contains, it still serves as the subject of the sentence. This is also applicable to a noun serving as the complement of the subject; it could consist of strings of words.




A noun usually functions as the complement of the object

Another way a noun can also be identified is that it functions as the complement of the object of the verb in a sentence. The complement of the object could be a noun, a noun phrase or equally a noun clause. Consider the examples below:

  • You can call the man Samson.

(The noun ‘Samson’ functions as the complement of the object ‘the man’).

  • Nigerians elected Buhari the president.

(The noun phrase ‘the president’ serves as the complement of the object ‘Buhari’).

  • You may wish to give the girl whatever she deserves.

(The noun clause ‘whatever she deserves’ functions as the complement of the object ‘the girl’).

A noun also functions as the complement of the preposition

We can also identify a noun by its function as the complement of the preposition. This can be demonstrated in the following examples:

  • We trekked for hours.

(The noun ‘hours’ serves as the complement of the preposition ‘for’)

  • They complained about the roads.

(‘the roads’ is a noun phrase which functions as the complement of the preposition ‘about’).

  • The Music Director did not insist on who should lead the song.

(The preposition ‘on’ has the noun clause ‘who should lead the song’ as its complement).

Having followed our discussion on the various ways by which one can identify a noun, let us now take a look at the different types of nouns that exist.

Types of Nouns

There are various types of noun which include: Proper, Common, Count, Non-Count, Concrete/Material, Abstract, Collective, Verbal, Possessive, etc. I have provided detailed explanations on each of these types of noun in another post. (See Types of Nouns). You can also check out nouns and their plural forms.

145 Comments

  1. My first lesson on this article is that noun is not only a name of person, animal, place or thing
    But It is a content word that can be used to refer to anything

    Noun serves so many functions as Subject, object, complement of noun, complement of preposition, etc

    Noun are always modified or qualified by adjective

  2. Noun is a broad topic which i really didn’t understand but this is very explanatory ,I gained a lot from this ,thank you sir

  3. This is very good sir,with this article,I don’t think anybody should have problem with noun anymore.
    I will be looking forward for some articles on transitive and intransitive verbs,and others parts of speech from you.

  4. Very educational content sir.
    Truth be told, that was the only definition of a noun I knew.
    Thanks sir.
    More power to your elbow.

  5. I have gained a lot from this,I never knew noun can serve as the complement of a preposition,it would have been better with more examples.

  6. This article has actually enabled me to more about noun,it’s function and application.
    Noun can actually function as a subject or object depending on the structure of the sentence

  7. Wow! What a nice and simple enlightenment about noun. It broadens my knowledge about noun. Very educational

  8. This is very interesting. I don’t know noun is broad like this untill I read this. Have gained a lot in this. Thanks

  9. Nothing to add,it’s a fully loaded article about noun which is far far educative than what i was taught in high school
    Thanks for the knowledge impacted sir.

  10. This is an educating article. I’ve received more information about the concept of nouns. I’m just getting to know verbal and possessive types of noun exist.

  11. Thought I knew all what noun is all about but going through this? I must say that I have really added more knowledge of what noun is all about.

  12. This was really educative and enlightening sir!! I actually realized that noun is far more than what I used to know and now I see more reasons to reading beyond what we’re taught in class! Will be looking forward to more articles from you sir!

  13. Now I know that the definition of a noun really goes beyond the names of animals, places or things.

  14. Nice article sir, but what part of speech is “Alexander” in Alexander, the great conquered Greece and found Alexandria

  15. A noun is the name of anything one can think of. It can be qualified by adjectives and they serve different functions in a sentence.

  16. This is a very insightful article. It has really broadened my knowledge on the types of nouns we have, and the different ways in which a noun can function

  17. Reading this article i learnt their difference between direct object and indirect object in which direct object answer the question what while indirect object answer the question whom.thank you sir

  18. I really learn a lot on this article “noun”.Actually I can recognize a word has a noun in a sentence, but I don’t know their function in the sentence with the exception of when it’s serving has subject or object. Now I know the function of a noun in sentence, thanks a lot sir.

  19. Wow! Amazing write-up. My knowledge on nouns has just been expanded from just “a name of any person, animal etc” to all this.
    Thanks for the knowledge.

  20. Interesting
    These makes me understand more about noun and how its function. They can function as a subject, object, compliment of a subject, compliment of an object, compliment of a preposition.

  21. Wow,I never knew noun is as broad as this. I actually thought it’s just a name of a person,animal place and things which we were taught in primary and secondary school. It’s very explanatory and shed more light on nouns. Thanks so much sir

  22. This is highly educational and a very good one i must say, i’ve gotten an additional knowledge about nouns, about how they function as subject and object of sentences, complement of object, subject and preposition and so much more.

  23. This is really educative about nouns,so a noun can also act as a compliment,compliments the object,subject and also preposition.

  24. Hmmmmmmm… I love this, this much more than what I was taught in high school about Noun. Now I see that Noun is broad as a topic .. Thank you Sir for sharing this knowledge with us.

  25. Just learnt this ;Subjects of sentences may not necessarily be made up of one word; they could comprise strings of words, but no matter the number of words they contain, they serve as the subject of the sentence.

  26. This article make me realize that noun is more than what I have been thought. It teaches me how and when to make use of noun.

  27. So from this article it can be explained that one of the major functions of noun is that A noun is generally a Name.
    “Whatever you can think of that has a name is a noun”.

  28. The concept “Noun” was clearly understand in relations to it’s definition, descriptions and functions, in relations to the article a,an and the.

  29. A noun is fully understood. Based on it’s functions and description “article”A and An or The which is applicable to count nouns

  30. More enlightening and detailed explanation of what nouns are,what forms they occur and their functions. After reading this,proper understanding of nouns is assured.

  31. An educating article. The article really described what a noun is and how it is used. It also described how a noun functions in a sentence.

  32. Since ths word noun is stated as a naming word from the above explanation.any object in the universe that can be seen or unseen must have a name,the name given to the object it’s stated as noun to denote the kind of object look like

  33. The article was a nice one. It also changed my metallity compared to what I was taught in secondary school.. I think we can also say or define a noun as a naming words, it can be used to identify name of any living thing.

  34. This is an in depth explanation on the concept of nouns.I have a question though, in the case of an indirect speech where the sentence is rearranged will the function of the noun change irrespective of its position in the sentence

  35. Will a subject of a sentence be change to object . E.g Fola killed a bird, In a reportive sentence,it becomes The bird was killed by Fola… Will Fola now become the object in the 2nd sentence

  36. As read above a noun is simply what we use to describe a person or anything just like a significance of what the person stands for

    1. Very educative sir,it’s really helping me alot .sir I will love u to elaborate more on the term COMPLEMENT of a noun.

  37. This article has enlightened and broadened my view on the concept of nouns,thanks for the educative write-up sir.

  38. This is a detailed post on what a noun really is. Far above the general definition of noun, it has exposed me to what nouns are, how to identify them, etc. In adding articles to nouns, one must ensure that it makes sense. It is impossible to say ‘a David’ though ‘David’ is a noun because it doesn’t make sense. Also, when converting adjectives or other parts of speech to nouns, it is called NORMINALIZATION.

  39. It’s amazing how the definition of noun could go from,
    “name of any person, animal,place or thing”
    to all this. Interesting write-up

  40. Without the use of nouns , I basically feel,communication would have been harder due to the inability of humans to truly express their thoughts and opinions effectively.

  41. As explained above noun does not deal only on naming word but also it has some functions likewise the noun clause or phrase
    My question is that what are the difference between noun and noun clause since it has the same functions

  42. Reading this really improved my knowledge of Noun as a part of speech. I learnt the following through this article:
    1. A noun is a namely word
    2. The article A is used to precede noun with consonant at initials while AN is used to precede nouns with vowels at initials and THE to precede majorly non- count nouns.
    3. Adjective modifies and qualifies a noun
    4. Adjective can also be used as noun depending on the function in a sentence
    5. The doer of an action is the SUBJECT of the sentence while the receiver is the OBJECT of the sentence which is further divided in two( direct and indirect).
    6. Noun also function as compliment of subjects, objects, and preposition in a sentence.
    7. There are various types of nouns which include; proper, common, count, non-count, concrete/material, abstract, e.t.c

    It worth reading.

  43. Another way a noun can also be identified is that it functions as the complement of the object of the verb in a sentence. The complement of the object could be a noun, a noun phrase or equally a noun clause.

  44. Noun can also Function as apposition to another noun
    A noun can be in apposition to another noun. By definition, the word “apposition” means putting a noun next to another noun to explain it. So each time you see a noun placed next to another noun and that noun is explaining the other noun, then you have a good example of a noun being in apposition to anther noun.
    For example: The footballer, Suarez has been suspended.(from Welcation)

  45. Amazing article. I have been more enlightened on Noun and its functions, especially on the aspect that a word which is naturally an adjective could become a noun.

  46. Nouns have always been complicated especially when it comes to the functions and the various examples of nouns that you wouldn’t expect to be a noun, though this article isn’t very explicit but brief with few examples , at least it feels less complicated now and understandable. It would have been better if it were a little bit more detailed with more examples to show the various noun and more examples to further explain its functions.

  47. A noun is generally a name, and usually is preceded by the article.
    Also, noun is usually modified, qualified or described by adjectives and functions as the subject of a sentence.

  48. Noun prescriptively is a signifier or a naming word. Noun descriptively can be described according to it’s functions, functioning as the subject of a sentence and so on.

  49. A noun is just a name tag or label for which something Is known….
    I have always convinced myself that the accepted definition of a noun is “a noun is a name of any person, animal, place or things”

  50. a noun is generally a name, a content word that is used to refer to anything; a name tag or a label by which something is known; that is, a signifying word.

  51. Noun has never been more broken down for easier assimilation than this,it shows the intricacies and efficacy of Noun

  52. I really gained a lot from reading this write-up. It was made known to me that a noun is not just a naming word but a content word used to refer to anything.

  53. A noun comprises of words that can be used to refer to anything.A noun serves as subject of a sentence ,object of a sentence ,compliment of a subject and also a compliment of a preposition and object

  54. Wow! I love this approach to the definition of noun- a descriptive perspective. This is like a paradigm to the rhymes we sing back at school.

  55. Indeed, this is a great Job. This has eventually fetch me more knowledge on what a noun is. Thanks, more power to your elbow.

  56. Saying this is the best Article I’ve ever read on Nouns and it’s concepts, wouldn’t be an understatement….. Thank you very much sir.

  57. A noun is a part of speech which is generally defined as the name of persons,places,animal or things.
    I would define a noun by it functions which are;a noun is a name,it is usually preceded by the article,it is qualified by adjectives,it functions as subject of a sentence,object of a sentence,complement of the subject,complement of the object and complement of the preposition.

    1. A Noun simply refers to a content word that can be used to refer to anything: a person, a place, a thing, an animal, a concept, a quality, an idea, a feeling, a doctrine, a theory, an ideology, a state, etc. It is also a signifying word.

    2. When a noun functions as the complement of the subject, a linking verb, usually the ‘be’ form of the verb is usually involved rather than a transitive verb.

      1. This is additional knowledge about noun and its different perspective and sincerely this write up needs to be turn into a book

      1. A very good write up .
        My questions are:
        1)Can a noun,noun phrase or clause be used as an apposition ?and
        2)Do all noun phrases and clauses answer the question ‘WHAT’

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