The Noun
Lecture 4
The noun is a class of words denoting
entity (a separate unit that is complete and
has its own characteristics).
The noun is the central nominative word
class.
 A typical noun has sense
the inherent
meaning of the noun.
 Ex. the sense of girl
'young female
human being'

Nouns are commonly thought of as
"naming" words, and specifically as the
names of "people, places, or things".

Nouns such as John, London, and computer
certainly fit this description, but the class of
nouns is much broader than this.

Nouns also denote abstract and intangible
concepts such as birth, happiness, evolution,
technology, management, imagination, revenge,
politics, hope, cookery, sport, literacy....

Because of this enormous diversity of
reference, it is not very useful to study
nouns solely in terms of their meaning.

It is much more fruitful to consider them
from the point of view of their formal
characteristics.
Characteristics of Nouns
Semantic
Syntactic
Morphological
characteristics characteristics
characteristics
of a noun
of a noun
of a noun
Denotes
Functions as
Inflected for
concrete entity head of NP (e.g. number (plural)
(e.g. dog) or
the girl); can in
and case
abstract notion
some cases
(genitive)
(e.g. idea)
function as a
premodifier in a
NP (e.g. an oak
table)
The noun class can be subdivided into the
following semantic subclasses:
Noun
Proper
(Tom)
Common
Uncountable
Countable
Abstract
Concrete Abstract Concrete
(hate)
(thought)
Collective Mass
Collective Individual
proper
(milk)
improper
(crew)
Animate
Inanimate
Animate
Inanimate
(vermin)
(furniture)
(toy)
Personal Non-personal
(child) (dog)
Common and Proper Nouns

The basic division of the noun class is into
common nouns and PROPER NOUNS.
Nouns which name specific people or
places are known as proper nouns.
 They are used to denote individuals,
places, oceans, institutions, etc.
 For example, John, Mary, London, France.


Since proper nouns usually refer to
something or someone unique, they do
not normally take plurals.

However, they may do so, especially when
number is being specifically referred to:
There are three Davids in my class.
 We met two Christmases ago.


For the same reason, names of people and
places are not normally preceded by
determiners the or a/an

though they can be in certain circumstances:
It's nothing like the America.
 Remember my brother is an Einstein at maths.

Changes in the meaning of the noun
along the scale proper → common










+ proper
+/- animate
+/- human
+/- female
+/- countable
+ concrete
+ common
- sex (neuter)
+ countable
+ concrete
Common Nouns

Common nouns denote classes of similar
referents or specific representatives of
certain classes:
The computer is widely used nowadays.
 The computer is on the desk.

common nouns
countable nouns & uncountable nouns

Some can be either count or non-count,
depending on the kind of reference they have.

Ex. I made a cake, cake is a count noun,
singular number.

However, in I like cake, the reference is less
specific. It refers to "cake in general", and so
cake is non-count in this sentence.
Count and Non-count Nouns

Common nouns are either count or noncount.
count nouns can be "counted", as
follows: one pen, two pens, three pens, four
pens...
 non-count nouns cannot be counted in this
way: one software, *two softwares, *three
softwares, *four softwares...

non-count nouns do not take a/an
Count
Non-count
a pen
*a software
Countable nouns have two categorical forms of
number – singular and plural.
 Uncountable nouns have only one form – either
singular or plural.

Both countable and uncountable
nouns fall into two semantic varieties –
concrete and abstract.

Concrete nouns denote material referents.
Abstract - immaterial referents.
individual nouns

Countable concrete nouns
collective nouns
improper
animate (beings)
Individual nouns
-
material entities
inanimate (objects)
personal (human beings)
 Animate nouns
non-personal (other species)
singular form
 Individual nouns
plural form
Collective nouns improper are treated
grammatically as countable nouns
The class is in the room.
The classes are in the room.

Plurality can also be marked by a plural
pronoun:
The senior class, who had a meeting,
decided they would have a party.

Uncountable concrete nouns
mass nouns

collective nouns proper
Mass nouns denote substances
Example: Honey is good for you.

Animate collective nouns proper + plural
word forms:
Vermin were crawling all over the place.

Inanimate collective nouns proper are
treated as singular: Fruit is good for you.

Uncountable abstract nouns are in the
singular: Hate is a negative feeling.
the semantic and formal feature
undergoing change → types of shift:
Proper noun → Common noun
 Common noun → Proper noun
 Countable noun → Uncountable noun
 Uncountable noun → Countable noun
 Abstract noun → Concrete noun
 Concrete noun → Abstract noun

Shifts are discussed by M. Mincoff in
his ‘English Grammar’ (1958)
various transformations are leading to the
shift
 these shifts will be discussed in pairs

Proper noun → Common noun
Proper nouns have unique referents
 No plural
 No article

Certain types of semantic change →
the noun in the plural or with some
grammatical determiner

the + personal name
a. The + name + relative clause:
I recognized Brian, the Brian who had been at
school with me.

b. The + a famous name:
‘The man’s name was Alfred Hitchcock. Not the
Alfred Hitchcock.’

the + personal name plural

Ex: She has been lunching with the Wilsons for
nearly three months. (=the members of the
family of Wilson)

Ex: Two Janes work in this office. < Two Janes
work in this office.
a + personal name singular
one of the members of a family:
Remember you are an Osborn – it’s a name to be
proud of.

a/an + the name of a famous person
else with similar abilities, appearance,
character:
Already he is being hailed as a young Albert
Einstein.

s.o.
a + personal name singular
the speaker doesn’t know anything about the
referent of the name:
There is a Mr. Alex Murrey asking to see you.
‘There is a man called Mr. Alex Murrey.’

a/an + the name of a famous artist or writer
instead of a picture or a book of that person:
The gallery has recently acquired a Picasso.

another + proper noun

someone or something with similar
qualities:
Music fans are already calling him another Frank
Sinatra.
There were fears that the war is Bosnia might
become another Vietnam.
the + numeral + geographic name
Parallel geographical names exist.
 Such names can be used in the plural and
also defined by the definite article:

the two Americas
Common noun → Proper noun
Many proper nouns have originated from
common nouns:
a daisy → Daisy;
brown → Brown;
a bush → Bush


Such nouns are included in dictionaries as
separate lexemes.
Countable noun → Uncountable noun

The shift from countable to uncountable is
often accompanied by a shift from individual to
generalized or from concrete to abstract
(no article):

Her husband has been sent to prison for three
years. (The speaker is referring to the institution
in general.)

We went by plane. (The speaker is talking

The kids are still at school. (The speaker is
about a form of transport.)
referring to the period of one’s life when one
goes to school.)
Uncountable noun → Countable noun
Uncountable nouns do not form a plural.
 They do not take the indefinite article.

However, in certain contexts, uncountable
nouns acquire semantic connotations
converting them into countable nouns.
 The semantic shifts of uncountable concrete
mass nouns to countable nouns involve shifts
from generalized to individualized
meanings.

An uncountable concrete mass
noun → a countable noun (a
particular kind of substance):
Cheese is a solid food made from milk.
(generalized)
 This shop sells a range of French cheeses.
(individualized)
 He was lying full length on the grass.
(a common plant)
 I could see various tall flowering grasses.
(particular types)

A mass noun → a countable noun (a
portion - individualized quantity):

Ice cream is frozen sweet food.

Would you like an ice cream?
(one portion)
A mass word can be used by
metonymy to refer to an object
made from the substance:
Nickel is a hard silver metal.
 A nickel is a coin worth five cents.

She likes cake. (a sweet food)
 She was making a cake for his birthday.
(a particular product)

Uncountable abstract nouns
countable nouns, undergoing a parallel
shift from abstract to concrete:




Beauty is the quality of being very good to look at.
(the quality)
She is a beauty. (a beautiful woman)
I like cars and this one is a beauty.
(an object characterized by the quality)
The beauty of working at home is that you don’t
have to travel. (advantage)
Sometimes the use of the shifted noun is
metaphorical.

The neighbours said that we were making
too much noise.
(literal use)

She makes all the right noises about
economic reform.
(metaphorical use)
Not all uncountable nouns can undergo
such semantic shifts.
There are other means of individualization
and concretization of meaning.
 One of them is the partitive phrase.

Concrete nouns:
a blade of grass
a piece of cheese
a bottle of rum
a bar of chocolate
a glass of milk
a cake of soap
a mug of coffee
a packet of biscuits
Abstract nouns:
a piece of music
a bit of consolation
a word of praise
an item of news
a stroke of good luck
an act of revenge
an article of news
a hint of advice
Sometimes individualization is achieved
through pairs of nouns

the uncountable noun in the pair
denotes the substance

the countable noun denotes the
article made from that substance:
wood → tree; bread → loaf
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