Definition. Morphological and syntactical characteristics

The noun denominates names of living things, lifeless things, abstract notions, qualities (kindness), states (strength, sleep, fear), actions (conversation, fight).

The noun has the following morphological characteristics:

Nouns that can be counted have two numbers (singular and plural),

Nouns denoting living beings have two case forms (the common case and the genitive case),

It is doubtful whether the grammatical category of gender exists in Modern English for it is hardly ever expressed by means of grammatical forms. There is practically only one gender-forming suffix in ME, the suffix –ess, expressing feminine gender. It is not widely spread: Heir-heiress, Poet-poetess, Actor-actress, Waiter-waitress, Host-hostess, Lion-lioness, Tiger-tigress.

The noun has certain syntactical characteristics. The chief syntactical functions of the noun in the sentence are those of the subject and the object. But it may also be used as an attribute or a predicative. E.g.:

The sun was rising in all his splendid beauty. (Dickens) (SUBJECT)

Troy and Yates followed the tourists. (Heym) (OBJECT)

He (Bosinney) was an architect… (Galsworthy) (PREDICATIVE)

Mary brought in the fruit on a tray and with it a glass bowl, and a blue dish… (Mansfield)  (ATTRIBUTE; the noun glass is used in the common case)

The hero and heroine, of course, just arrived from his father’s yacht. (Mansfield)  (ATTRIBUTE; the noun father is used in the genitive case)

A noun preceded by a preposition (a prepositional phrase) may be used as attribute, prepositional indirect object, and adverbial modifier. E.g.:

To the left were clean panes of glass. (Ch. Bronte) (ATTRIBUTE)

Bicket did not answer, his throat felt too dry. He had heard of the police. (Galsworthy) (OBJECT)

She went into the drawing-room and lighted the fire. (Mansfield) (ADVERBIAL MODIFIER)

“Stop everything, Laura!” cried Jose in astonishment. (Mansfield)  (ADVERBIAL MODIFIER)

The noun is generally associated with the article. Because of the comparative scarcity of morphological distinctions in English in some cases only articles show that the word is a noun. A noun can be modified by an adjective, a pronoun, by another noun or by verbals.

Morphological composition of nouns

According to their morphological composition we distinguish simple, derivative and compound nouns.

Simple nouns are nouns which have no affixes. They are indecomposable: chair, table, room, map, fish, work.

Derivative nouns are nouns which have affixes: reader, sailor, childhood, misconduct, inexperience. Productive noun-forming suffixes are: -er, -ist-, -ess, -ness, -ism.

Unproductive suffixes are: -hood, dom, -ship (relationship), -ment (development), -ance (importance),- ence (dependence), -ty (cruelty), -ity (generosity).

Compound nouns are those built from two or more roots. They often have one stress. The meaning of a compound often differs from the meaning of its elements (apple-tree, snowball, bluebell). The main types of compound nouns are as follows:

(a) noun-stem + noun-stem: appletree, snowball;

(b) adjective-stem + noun-stem: blackbird, bluebell;

(c) verb-stem + noun-stem: pickpocket; the stem of a gerund or of a participle may be the first component of a compound noun: dining-room, reading-hall, dancing-girl.

Classification of nouns

Nouns fall under two classes: proper nouns and common nouns. Proper nouns are individual names given to separate individuals of things (personal names, geographical names, names of months, days of the week, names of ships, hotels, clubs, etc). A large number of nouns now proper were originally common nouns (Brown, Smith). Proper nouns may change their meaning and become common nouns (champagne, sandwich, wellies).

Common nouns are names that can be applied to any individual of a class of people or things (man, dog, book), collections of similar individuals or things regarded as a single unit (peasantry, family), materials (snow, iron, cotton) or abstract notions (kindness, development). Thus, there are different groups of common nouns: class nouns, collective nouns, nouns of material and abstract nouns.

Class nouns denote people of things belonging to a class. They are countable and have two numbers: singular and plural (book, tool, giraffe).

Collective nouns denote a number or collection of similar individuals or things as a single unit. Collective nouns fall under the following groups:

Nouns used only in the singular and denoting a number of things collected together and regarded as a single object: foliage, machinery.

Nouns which are singular in form though plural in meaning (police, poultry, cattle, people). They are usually called nouns of multitude.

Nouns that can be both singular and plural (family, crowd, group)

Nouns of material denote material: iron, gold, paper, tea, water. They are uncountable and are generally used without an article. Nouns of material are used in the plural to denote different sorts of a given material (wines, waters).

Abstract nouns denote some quality, state, action or idea: kindness, sadness. They are usually uncountable, though some of them can be countable: idea, hour.

Abstract nouns may change their meaning and become class nouns. Their change is marked by the use of the article and the plural number:

e.g. Beauty – a beauty – beauties

Sight – a sight – sights

The Category of Number

English countable nouns have two numbers – singular and plural. The main types of the plural forms of English nouns are as follows:

The general rule for forming the plural of English nouns is by adding the suffix S to the singular. It is pronounced in different ways:

IZ after sibilants: noses, horses, bridges, pages.

Z after voiced consonants and vowels: flowers, beds, doves, boys.

S after voiceless consonants: caps, books, hats, cliffs.

If the noun ends in –s, -ss, -ch, -tch, -sh, -x the plural is formed by adding –es to the singular.

If the nouns ends into –y preceded by a consonant, -y is changed into –i before –es.

e.g. fly – flies

lady – ladies

In proper nouns, however, the plural is formed by adding the ending –s to the singular: Mary – Marys.

If the noun finishes in –o preceded by a consonant, the plural is generally formed by adding –es. Only a few nouns are exceptions to this rule. They form the plural simply by adding –s:

Hero – heroes but: piano – pianos

Cargo – cargoes solo – solos

Potato – potatoes photo – photos

Echo – echoes

All nouns ending in –o preceded by a vowel form the plural in –s and not in –es:

Cuckoo – cuckoos

Portfolio – portfolios

There a few nouns ending in –o which form the plural both in –s and –es:

Mosquito – mosquitos or mosquitoes, volcanos (es)

With certain nouns the final voiceless consonants are changed into the corresponding voiced consonants when the noun takes the plural form.

The nouns finishing in –f or –fe change it into –v (both in spelling and pronunciation) in the plural: wife – wives (life, knife, wolf, calf, half, loaf, leaf, self, shelf).

There are some nouns ending in –f which have two forms in the plural:

scarf – scarfs or scarves wharf – wharfs or wharves

Exceptions: proof, chief, safe, cliff, gulf, reef, grief, roof, belief, kerchief, handkerchief.

Nouns ending in –th after long vowels change it into in pronunciation:

bath – baths, path – paths, oath – oaths

But is always retained after consonants and short vowels:

smith – smiths, month – months, myth – myths, birth – births

One noun ending in S changes it into Z in pronunciation: house – houses.

The plural forms of some nouns are survivals of earlier formations.

There are 7 nouns which form the plural by changing the root vowel: man-men, woman-women, foot-feet, tooth-teeth, goose-geese, die-dice, mouse-mice, louse-lice .

There are 2 nouns which form the plural in –en: ox-oxen, child-children.

Note. The nouns brother has besides its usual plural form another plural form brethren, which belongs to the elevated style and denotes people of the same creed and not relationship. The noun cow also has two plural forms (cows and kine), the latter sometimes occurs in poetry. The noun penny also has two plurals: pence – British currency (ten pence),

pennies – individual coins. Some nouns have the same singular and plural forms: species, series, means, corp.

In some nouns plural does not differ from the singular: deer, fish, swine, trout, sheep.

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