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What is a noun?



A noun is a member of a syntactic class

  • that includes words which refer to people, places, things, ideas, or concepts
  • whose members may act as any of the following: subjects of the verb, objects of the verb, indirect object of the verb, or object of a preposition (or postposition), and
  • most of whose members have inherently determined grammatical gender (in languages which inflect for gender).

Nouns embody one of the most time-stable concepts in a language. As with verbs, however, this time-stability criterion defines only the prototypical nouns. Other, non-prototypical nouns must be identified by distributional similarities to prototypical nouns.

Examples (English)
  • rock
  • tree
  • dog
  • person

These nouns are prototypical nouns in English because they are perceived as concrete, physical, compact entities which do not change significantly over time.


The following nouns are less prototypical because they represent concepts or items that are not perceived as staying the same for a long period of time, or are not concrete:

  • fist
  • beauty
  Here are some kinds of nouns:
  A noun is a kind of

Crystal 1980 244


Hartmann and Stork 1972 154


Mish 1991 808


Givón 1984 51–52


Payne, T. 1997a 33, 39–41

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