Understanding Basic Grammar
A Quick-Reference Guide
You may have learned in grade school that a noun is a person, place or thing. Although this may identify nouns in many cases, it can not be simplified that to that extent. It depends on how the word is used in a sentence, as it does for identifying all parts of speech.
A person, say a professor, could be used as noun in one sentence:
► The professor teaches English 101.
However, that same word can be made possessive and turned into an adjective that modifies a noun, in this case the noun coat:
► Where is professor’s coat?
The same sort of thing could also cause confusion with a place or a thing.
► America’s president is George W. Bush. (America is serving as possessive adjective modifying the noun president.)
► The book’s cover is yellow. (The noun in this sentence is cover
and book’s is also a possessive adjective that modifies the book by describing it).
As you can see nouns are a little more complicated than you may have once thought. They can, among other things, do the action, receive the action or be identified. They can be the subject of a sentence, the object of a preposition, a direct object (an object that follows an action verb), or an indirect object (an object that does not receive the action of the verb).
Listed below are several types of nouns that should help in understanding how nouns function.
1. Concrete nouns: These nouns cause little confusion. They are simply a word that has a visible form such as computer, desk, chair, bed, table, etc.
2. Abstract nouns: These nouns lack a visible form but are still considered “things” and are often times the subject of a sentence or the object of a preposition. Some examples are: love, companionship, democracy, freedom, friendship, etc.
3. Proper nouns: These nouns, always capitalized, refer to specific people, places or things. They can come in the form of cities, landmarks, names, including titles directly before someone’s name. Some examples are: Professor Gian Pagnucci, Pittsburgh, the Lincoln Memorial, etc.
4. Common nouns: These nouns, concrete or abstract, are not capitalized and simply refer to a person, place, thing or idea. A person’s title that comes after their name or is freestanding in a sentence is not capitalized, and thus considered common.
5. Collective nouns: Described in detail on the subject-verb agreement page, these nouns describe more than one person, place or thing but are considered a unit: group, family, team, faculty, jury, committee, class, crowd, flock, colony, herd, firm, etc.
6. Singular/Plural nouns: Details on determining whether a noun is singular or plural can also be found on the subject-verb agreement page. Of course, a singular noun refers to one thing, and a plural noun refers to more than one thing (or person, place or idea, as always).
7. Nominative nouns: These nouns act as the subject in the sentence.
8. Objective nouns: These nouns act as objects in a sentence.
NOTE: Nouns, unlike pronouns, do not change their spelling when moving from the nominative case to the objective case.
9. Predicate nouns: These nouns rename the subject after a linking verb (a non-action verb in any form of the verb to be such as is and are).
► Randy Jesick is my professor for Public Relations I. (Professor, in this sentence, is a predicate noun that is renaming the subject, Randy Jesick)
One more thing worth mentioning about nouns is that they can sometimes come in the form of gerunds or infinitives, which are nouns that appear to be verbs.
· Gerunds, always nouns, end in ing. They look like verbs because of their spelling, but if you look closer you see that their function is not that of action, but that of an object, subject or other noun quality.
► Reading is an enjoyable activity. (Here reading is the subject of the sentence because it is what is enjoyable. The verb, on the other hand, is the linking verb is, which also makes activity a predicate noun and enjoyable an adjective describing it.)
· Infinitives, sometimes functioning as nouns, begin with to and serve noun functions.
► To build rapport in an interview you must ask simple questions. (In this case, the infinitive “to build” serves the a noun function as the subject of the sentence.
Although, It may be difficult to understand and memorize all the technicalities of nouns, and the other parts of speech, but it is important to have a general understanding of what they are and how they are used.
Pronouns are substitutes for nouns that have the same functions as nouns do. What may be more confusing is classifying a pronoun into one of the seven types:
1. Personal– those that substitute directly for a noun.
2. Demonstrative– those that point out and identify: this and that (singular) and these and those (plural).
3. Reciprocal– those that express mutual action: each other and one another.
4. Interrogative– those that ask questions: who, whom, whose, which and what.
5. Reflexive/Intensive- those that end in self (singular) or selves (plural). Reflexive/Intensive pronouns always have an antecedent in which they refer to.
6. Indefinite– those that are vague in that they refer to something generally, not specifically.
7. Relative– those that introduce a dependent clause: who, which,
that, whom, what, whose, whoever, whoever, whomever,
whichever and whatever. Although relative pronouns are some of the same words as interrogative pronouns they perform an introduction
not a question.
· When using pronouns, you must make sure that it is clear which noun the pronoun refers to. Be very careful with your wording.