By Patrick Durham

Grammar Basics Nouns

The noun is the cornerstone of our language. There, I’ve said it. It may seem simple, and often taken for granted, but nouns name everything around us. These things can be concrete or abstract, but the noun is a noble creature. It is a person. It is a place. It is a thing. It is an idea. It is a boy and girl, school and home, computer and typewriter, liberty and justice. Nietzsche called them metaphors because he believed they could be disproven (as he said about all parts of the language), but nouns are there and can’t be denied. So let’s take a closer look at these building blocks of language.


The common noun, though just as noble as the proper noun, names general people, places, things, or ideas. A building is a common noun (not to be confused with the verb “to build”). It is a thing. Who works in the building? People work there: men and women (and maybe dogs, too, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish). Where is the building located? It sits in the middle of town. What is the building for? It contains people working for justice. It is a building in the middle of town with people who work for justice.


But let’s not take these things for granted. Without the nouns the sentence would read: It is a in the middle of with who work for. Doesn’t make sense, does it? When we inject the nouns, the sentence tells us the thing we’re talking about, the place, the person, and the idea. These nouns answer the four W’s of good writing: the what, the where, the who, and the why.


The proper noun gives a specific name to these common nouns. The town becomes Pleasantville. The building becomes Pleasantville City Hall. The people become Bob, Judy, and John. Thus we have: Bob, Judy, and John are Pleasantville Law Enforcement who work at Pleasantville Town Hall located in the middle of Pleasantville. Does this sentence seem repetitive? Sure it does. That’s why we use a mixture of common and proper nouns to give variety in our writing. Bob, Judy, and John are police officers who work in the middle of Pleasantville at the City Hall. The sentence is still a little stilted and could probably be reworded or broken into two sentences, but I’m painting a picture with the primary colors and can refine them later.

The noun is often overlooked and taken for granted, but it is just as important as all of the other parts of speech. Nouns live all around us—in our homes, our work, and our writing. Without them, we would not know who was doing what in where and why. Let us celebrate the noble noun and all for which it stands.

Grammar Basics – The Noble Noun
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