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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.

By
Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
Episode #443

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are a type of concrete noun. (That may be why people find all these different categories hard to understand—there’s overlap between them.)

Collective nouns are words that describe a group of things, usually people:

band

board

class

committee

team

In American English, we tend to treat collective nouns as singular, so although there are multiple people in a band or on a team, we treat them as one thing:

The band is playing tonight.

The board is meeting tomorrow.

The class is doing a project on kittens.

The committee is planning a coup.

The team is selling custom made marimbas to raise money.

Nouns of Assembly

A particularly fun type of collective noun is what are called “nouns of assembly” or “terms of venery.” These are phrases that typically describe a group of animals, such as 

a pride of lions

a murder of crows

But sometimes people also make up funny or clever new ones such as 

a blister of shoes

a forest of books

an agony of dentists

(I just made those up. What are your favorites? Have you made up any? Leave them in the comments below.)

Compound Nouns

Compound nouns are usually nouns that are made up of two other words, and they can be formed three different ways:

  • open compounds (two separate words, such as coffee house)
  • closed compounds (two words that are now written as one, such as football)
  • hyphenated compounds (two words that are joined by a hyphen, such as collar-bone)

The frustrating thing about compound nouns is that they change over time. Often they’ll start as open or hyphenated compounds and then merge into a single word, and different dictionaries will show them written in different ways. 

For example, the huge Oxford English Dictionary has collar-bone hyphenated, but Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary and the newer Oxford Dictionaries site both have it as a single word: collarbone. Another example is tree-hugger. Collins Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary have it hyphenated, but Merriam Webster’s online dictionary has it as an open compound. 

It’s common to find those differences between compound words in dictionaries. The best thing you can do is pick one dictionary and use it as your guide.

Nouns can be categorized in even more ways. If you want more, read this article about common nouns and proper nouns.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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