Properties of Nouns (2)

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Case is that property of a noun or pronoun that indicates the relation of the noun or pronoun to the rest of the sentence.

Nouns have three cases.

(1) The Nominative Case is used in the subject of a verb and in the predicate noun.

The politician spoke with emphasis.

The boy is an athlete.

(2) The Objective Case is used for the object of a verb or preposition.

The farmer built a fence.

He drove across the country.

(3) The Possessive Case denotes possession.

This is the gentleman’s hat.

Forms. The three cases have the following forms.

SINGULARPLURALSINGULARPLURAL
Nominativeboyboysladyladies
Possessiveboy'sboys'lady'sladies'
Objectiveboyboysladyladies
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The Nominative and Objective cases of a noun have the same form. Thus, there can be no confusion in the use of them.

The Possessive Case of a noun is marked by the use of an apostrophe (’).

(1) The possessive case of a singular noun is regularly formed by adding an ’s to the end of the noun: as, woman’s, mayor’s, girl’s.

(2) The possessive case of a plural noun is formed:

(a) By adding an apostrophe to the simple plural when the plural ends in s: as, dogs’ (simple plural, dogs), girls’ (simple plural, girls).

(b) By adding ’s, as in the singular, when the simple plural does
not end in s: as, women’s (simple plural, women), children’s (simple plural, children).

For singular nouns that end in s or an s-sound (like ce) add only an apostrophe: as, Moses’ story, Jesus’ crucifixion, for conscience’ sake. This is also true when other s-sounds follow: as, Odysseus’ adventure. Use of the regular ’s in such instances is not, however, incorrect.

(3) In compound nouns or in titles or names having a unit idea,
an apostrophe (’) or an apostrophe s (’s) is added to the last member of the group: as, mother-in-law’s, the Prince of Wales’, the Queen of England’s. Usage is divided for some compounds: attorneys general’s or attorney generals’.

The possessive case usually denotes possession.

John’s car was stolen.

A crowd occupied the city’s square.

Sometimes the possession is of a modified type. For example, in the expressions, “Einstein’s theories” and “Wordsworth’s poems,” Einstein and Wordsworth are the possessors only in the sense that they are the theorists or creators. Compare the two kinds of possession indicated in the following sentence: “This is David’s copy of Wordsworth’s collected poems.”Some instances of possession indicate a lack of ownership entirely: a day’s work, my year’s salary, the law’s delay. These phrases mean “the work of a day,” “my salary for a year,” “the delay of the law.”

A noun in the possessive case is usually equivalent to a phrase beginning with of. For example, we may say either “Hardy’s poems” or “the poems of Hardy”; “the governor’s mansion” or “the mansion of the governor”; “the President’s agenda” or “the agenda of the President.” We would not, however, say “the car of Johnny” for “Johnny’s car,” or “the law of Murphy” for “Murphy’s law.” When making such distinctions in usage, the student must be guided by his or her ear for what sounds correct.

As a general rule only the possessive case is not used with inanimate objects. A phrase with of is used instead: thus, “the cover of the book” (not “the book’s cover”); “the branches of the tree” (not “the tree’s branches”). There are exceptions to this rule: time’s delay, ship’s mast, earth’s surface, tree’s fruit, etc.

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Properties of Nouns (1)

Nouns have Number, Gender, and Case.

Number

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Number is that aspect of a noun that designates whether one or more than one object is indicated.

(1) The Singular Number indicates one object only: as, cat, lake, woman.

(2) The Plural Number indicates two or more objects: as, cats, lakes, women.

The plural number in most instances is formed by adding -s or -es to the singular form: as spoon, spoons; glass, glasses; house, houses; fax, faxes.

Gender

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Gender is that property of a noun or pronoun that indicates the sex of an object. In English these distinctions are a matter of biology or custom, not actual grammatical gender, as it is in French, for example.

There are three genders: Masculine, Feminine, and Neuter.

(1) The Masculine Gender indicates a being of the male sex: as, man, son, nephew, bull, father, Anthony.

(2) The Feminine Gender indicates a being of the female sex: as, woman, lady, sister, niece, hen, sow, Sophia.

(3) The Neuter Gender indicates an object of no sex: as, tree, rock, carton, city, ground, clouds, tomatoes.

In addition to these three genders, the term Common Gender refers to nouns that may be either masculine or feminine but don’t designate any particular gender specifically: as, ancestor, baby, schoolmate, spouse, parent, teacher.

Note. Some inanimate objects are often spoken of as if they were feminine. For example, ships are often spoken of as she, as are automobiles and trains; also the Catholic Church has traditionally been referred to as feminine. Sometimes in poetry, celestial objects such as the moon are referred to as she; the sun, as he. These uses are chiefly historical or poetical. In ordinary prose, especially in science, these words are treated as neuter, with the possible exception of ship, which stubbornly retains its feminine reference.

Worksheet for Exercises 1 and 2 (.pdf)

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Classes of Nouns

Nouns

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A Noun is a word that names something. The something that a noun names may be:

(1) An animate or an inanimate thing with physical existence: as, person, dog, plant, stone, winner, town.

(2) An abstract or spiritual concept: as, compassion, honor, hatred, honesty, love.

(3) Some quality or property belonging to an object; as, color, weight, thickness, density.

(4) An action: as, singing, exercising, dancing.

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Note. In the sentence, “Studying is necessary to pass the exam,” studying is a noun (gerund) because it is the name of an act and is the subject of the verb is; but notice that in “He was studying all night,” studying is not a noun: it is a part of the verb was studying, which tells what he was doing.

Classes of Nouns

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Nouns fall into two classes: Common Nouns and Proper Nouns.

(1) A Common Noun is the name for all the members of a class of objects — that is, the name is common to all the members of the class: as, state, country, man, bank, lake.

(2) A Proper Noun is the distinctive name of an individual member of a class: as, Virginia (a member of the class of state), Germany (country), William (male), Erie (lake).

The word “proper” traces its root through the word “property” and has the meaning of “one’s own.” In writing, proper nouns are capitalized. Such words as Pepsi (a can of Pepsi), the French, a Canadian, a Moose (a member of the Moose Lodge), Democrats, Protestants, etc., are also capitalized. Although these nouns are names common to all the members of a class, they are also the names of particular members of a class.

Special Classes. The two classes — common and proper — cover all nouns, but included in these two are some special types.

(1) An Abstract Noun names a cognitive or abstract concept: as, benevolence, courtesy, trust, tranquility, strength, resilience.

(2) A Collective Noun is the name of a collection or group of similar objects: as, mob, herd, club, team, company (a commercial organization), U.S. Navy, United Nations, Republican Party, Army Corps of Engineers.

(3) A Compound Noun is a combination of two or more existing nouns or other parts of speech: as, grandmother, highway, businessman, commander-in-chief, brother-in-law, sales department, payroll, Marriott Hotel, Apple Computer.

(4) A Count Noun names something that can be counted and may be either physical or abstract: as, pencil, pencils; mouse, mice; idea, ideas; dream, dreams.

(5) A Noncount Noun (also known as a Mass Noun) is the name of something that cannot be counted and is used only in the singular; it may or may not be abstract: as, clutter, wisdom, silence, satisfaction, music.

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The Parts of Speech

A sentence is the largest unit of grammar and consists of words combined so as to express a complete thought. Each word performs a particular function in expressing that thought, and all words are classified according to their respective functions into eight Parts of Speech.

The Eight Parts of Speech are:

NounsVerbsPrepositions
PronounsAdverbsConjunctions
AdjectivesInterjections
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A Noun is a word that names a person, place, thing, or idea: as, man, student, defiance.

The man ran effortlessly.

The student was suspended for defiance.

A Pronoun is a word used in place of a noun: as, she, we, who.

She was here.

We are the people who pay the highest taxes.

An Adjective is a word that limits the meaning of or modifies a noun: as, brown or last.

He wore a brown coat.

The soldier took the last train home.

A Verb is a word that expresses an action, condition, or state: as, walk, dance, read, sleep, is.

The girls dance gracefully.

My sister sleeps till noon.

An Adverb is a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb: as, softly, quickly, very, too, often.

She played the piano softly.

The soup was very hot.

He got into trouble too often.

A Preposition is a connecting word or word group that shows the relationship that exists between a noun or a pronoun to some other word in the sentence: as, on, over, to, through, from, of.

The plane flew over the mountain.

The boy threw the ball through the window.

He sat across from us.

A Conjunction is a word or word group that connects words, phrases, clauses, and sentences: as, and, but, because, although.

The officer and his troops fought bravely.

You can be lazy, but don’t expect success.

He tightened the nuts hard so that the tire would stay on.

An Interjection is an exclamatory word that “interrupts”; it has little or no grammatical relationship to the rest of the sentence.

Ouch, that hurts.

These eight classifications can be divided into four groups according to the relation between the different parts of speech.

  1. Nouns; Pronouns (used in place of nouns); Adjectives (modifiers of nouns).
  2. Verbs; Adverbs (primarily modifiers of verbs).
  3. Prepositions and Conjunctions (connecting words).
  4. Interjections (having no grammatical relation to the sentence).
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The following sentence contains seven of the Parts of Speech and demonstrates their uses.

Several bright engineers worked diligently on the project and completed it by the deadline.

Engineers, project, and deadline are nouns; they name things.

It is a pronoun standing for the noun project.

Several and bright are adjectives modifying the noun engineers.

The is an adjective (article) modifying the noun project.

Worked and completed are verbs—they tell what the engineers did; in other words, they make a statement about the engineers.

Diligently is an adverb modifying the verb worked—it describes the manner of their working.

On and by are prepositions—on shows the relation of the noun project to the verb worked; by shows the relation of the noun deadline to the verb completed.

And is a conjunction connecting the verbs worked and completed.

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English Grammar in Review

Your English teacher, Tom Fasano, has written a book, English Grammar in Review, which thoroughly explains the traditional model of English grammar. With hundreds of detailed concepts, scores of exercises, and thousands of enlightening examples of usage, the book teaches students how to avoid common grammatical mistakes and improve their writing. This book — along with this blog — is the next best thing to having your own English teacher next door.

English Grammar in Review published earlier this month; and now, with a few editorial changes, the book has been reissued in a slightly amended edition. My vision for the book is that it will have a dual relationship to the blog: the blog as a tie-in to the book, and the book a tie-in to the blog. But the book and the blog are not strictly mirror images of each other — more like the image of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions — which pretty much describes how the blog and my book start at the same point yet look away, each containing unique content not found in the other. What’s more, the blog will eventually have downloads of worksheets as well as the answers to the exercises in the book. Ultimately, my hope is that Your English Class will become a forum where buyers of the book and fans of the blog can enter into an exchange with the author.

Thanks for stopping by and continue to visit. Much will be happening here in the next several months.

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