Nouns: Concrete, Abstract, Collective, and Compound

Nouns can be categorized in many different ways. A reader named Caley wanted to know about these categories of nouns: concrete, abstract, collective, and compound.

Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #443

Nouns: concrete, abstract, collective, compound

A fourth-grader named Caley sent me this message:

“My writing teacher loves your book and uses it a lot. I would like for you to explain concrete, compound, abstract, and collective nouns.”

I remember learning that a noun is a person, place, or thing; but unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that. 

Concrete Nouns

People, places, and things are all concrete nouns. They’re things you can see or touch such as kittens and puppies, trees and flowers, sticks and stones, and cities and countries.

Abstract Nouns

People often find abstract nouns more confusing. They’re things such as concepts, feelings, ideas, states of mind, and attributes. For example, honor, loyalty, courage, truth, and freedom are all abstract nouns. 

If you have an abstract word like those, and you want to test whether it’s really a noun, one way to do it is to see if you can replace the word with one that is more recognizable to you as a noun—a concrete noun.

For example, let’s say you have this sentence:

I’m out of gumption today.

If you want to figure out whether gumption is a noun, see if you can replace it with a concrete noun: 

I’m out of milk today.

You can. You can replace gumption with the concrete noun milk, so it’s a good bet that gumption is an abstract noun.

Try it with this sentence:

Don’t you have any decency?

Is decency a noun? Sure because you can replace it with other nouns:

Don’t you have any rocks?

Don’t you have any kittens?

Don’t you have any trees?

Words sometimes serve multiple purposes, so a word such as hate can be both an abstract noun and a verb.

In this sentence it’s a verb:

I hate fishing.

In this sentence it’s an abstract noun:

Don’t bring your hate in here.

No need to get confused though. You can still use the concrete-noun test to see when it’s a noun. When you can replace hate with a concrete noun, then you know it’s playing a role as an abstract noun:

Don’t bring your dog in here.

Don’t bring your fish in here.

Don’t bring your cookies in here. (Well, on second thought, the cookies are fine.)

Since you can replace hate with the nouns dog, fish, and cookies, hate is a noun in the sentence Don’t bring your hate in here.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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