Nouns - English Grammar Notes

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  • A noun is the part of speech that names a person, a place, a thing or an idea. You use nouns every day when you speak or write. Every day you probably use thousands of nouns.
  • Because nouns name the objects and people and places around you, it would be very difficult to talk about anything at all without them. Many nouns name things you can see:

    Persons                          Places                      Things

    Boy                                 Lake                          Boot
    Student                           Country                     Shadow
    John Kamau                     Nairobi                      Chair
    Stranger                          Jupiter                       Sweater
    Writer                              Kenyatta Market         Calendar
    Barrack Obama                 Sierra Leone              Short story

  • Note: Nouns can be two or more words e.g. John Kamau, Kenyatta Market and Short story.
  • They are called compound nouns. We shall learn more about them in coming pages.
  • Some nouns name things you cannot see such as feelings, ideas and characteristics:

    Feelings                             Ideas                     Characteristics

    Excitement                        Freedom                   Curiosity
    Fear                                  Justice                      Cowardice
    Anger                                Fantasy                    Courage
    Happiness                          Faith                        Imagination
    Surprise                             Evil                          Self-confidence

Exercise 1

What words in each sentence below are nouns?

Example: John is a dancer – John, dancer

  1. The students planned a party.
  2. Three boys performed songs.
  3. Excitement filled the air.
  4. Joyce Chepkemoi won a prize.
  5. Otieno lives in a house on my street.

Exercise 2

Copy the nouns below and write whether it names a person, a place, a thing, or an idea.

Example: river – place

  1. Candle
  2. Guitar
  3. Wrestle
  4. China
  5. Joy
  6. Hatred
  7. Menengai Crater
  8. Masanduku Arap Simiti

Exercise 3

Write down each noun in the following sentences.

Example: Kenya is a beautiful country – Kenya, country

  1. The musicians played drums and trumpets.
  2. Her family lives in a village.
  3. Petronilla enjoyed the trip.
  4. A festival was held in Kenyatta University.
  5. People in costumes filled the streets.
  6. Boys in Scouts uniforms were leading the parade.
  7. The holiday was a great excitement.
  8. A taxi brought the family to the airport.
  9. Maryanne built a huge castle in the wet sand.
  10. Her mother swam in the warm water.

Types of Nouns

Common and Proper Nouns

  • All nouns can be described as either common or proper. When you talk or write about a person, a place, a thing, or an idea in general, you use a common noun.
    Example: Doctors work hard. They treat many patients.
  • A proper noun is the name of a particular person, place, thing, or idea. Proper nouns always begin with capital letters.
    Example: Ephraim Maree is a doctor. He comes from Kirinyaga.
  • Note: When a proper noun is made up of more than one word, only the important words in the noun will begin with a capital letter. Do not capitalize words such as the, of, or for.
    Example: Gulf of Mexico, State of Liberty, the Commander – in – Chief.

    Common nouns  Proper nouns 
     street  Kerugoya 
     author  South Africa
     policeman  Indian Ocean
     country  Asia
     mountain  England
     lake  Nelson Mandela
     city  Uhuru Kenyatta
     ocean  Mutahi Kagwe
     bed  Moi Avenue
     wardrobe  Lake Victoria
     continent  Dr. Frank Njengaa
     assistant  Professor Saitoti
  • Proper nouns are important to good writing. They make your writing more specific, and therefore clearer.

Exercise 4

Which words are proper nouns and should be capitalised? Which words are common nouns?

Example: kenya Proper: Kenya

  1. july
  2. student
  3. america
  4. book
  5. kendu bay
  6. business
  7. face
  8. john hopkins
  9. day
  10. england
  11. life
  12. east africa
  13. crocodiles
  14. johannesburg
  15. calendar

Exercise 5

List the common nouns and the proper nouns in each of the following sentences.

Example: Nancy welcomed the guests.

Proper: Nancy common: guests

  1. Lucky Dube was a famous singer.
  2. This dancer has performed in London and Paris.
  3. His last flight was over the Mediterranean Sea.
  4. She worked as a nurse during the Second World War.
  5. Her goal was to educate students all over the world.
  6. It was the worst accident in the history of Europe.
  7. Bill Gates is best known for founding Microsoft.
  8. The Pilot was the first woman to cross that ocean alone.
  9. She grabbed a kettle and brought them water.
  10. Professor Wangari Maathai won a Nobel Peace Prize.

Singular and Plural Nouns

  • A noun may be either singular or plural.
  • A singular noun names one person, place, thing, or idea.

    Example: The farmer drove to the market in his truck.

  • A plural noun names more than one person, place, thing or idea.

    Example: The farmers drove to the markets in their trucks.

Rules for forming plurals

The following are guidelines for forming plurals:

  1. To form the plural of most singular nouns, add -s.
    Examples: Street – streets, house – houses, painter – painters, shelter – shelters, event- events, hospital – hospitals.
  2. When a singular noun ends in s, sh, ch, x, or z, add - es.
    Examples: dress-dresses, brush-brushes, ax-axes, coach-coaches, box – boxes, benchbenches, dish-dishes, waltz – waltzes.
  3. When a singular noun ends in o, add -s to make it plural.
    Examples: Piano-pianos, solo-solos, cameo – cameos, concerto – concertos, patiopatios, studio-studios, radio-radios, rodeo – rodeos.
  4. For some nouns ending with a consonant and o, add -es.
    Examples: hero – heroes, potato – potatoes, echo-echoes, veto – vetoes, tomato – tomatoes.
  5. When a singular noun ends with a consonant and y, change the y to i and add -es.
    Examples: Library – libraries, activity – activities, story – stories, city – cities, berry – berries.
  6. When a singular noun ends with a vowel (a,e,i,o,u) followed by y, just add -s.
    Examples: Valley – valleys, essay – essays, alley – alleys, survey – surveys, joy – joys.
  7. To form the plural of many nouns ending in f or fe, change the f to v and add -es or s.
    Examples: Wife – wives, thief – thieves, loaf – loaves, half – halves, shelf – shelves, leaf – leaves, scarf – scarves, life – lives, calf – calves, elf – elves.
  8. For some nouns ending in f, add -s to form the plural.
    Examples: proof – proofs, belief – beliefs, motif – motifs, cliff – cliffs.
  9. Some nouns remain the same in the singular and the plural.
    Examples: deer – deer, sheep – sheep, series – series, species – species, moose – moose, trout – trout.
  10. The plurals of some nouns are formed in special ways.
    Examples: foot – feet, child – children, mouse – mice, man – men, woman – women, ox-oxen, tooth – teeth.

NB: If you don’t figure out the correct spelling of a plural noun, look it up in a dictionary.

Exercise 6

What is the plural form of each of the following nouns? Example: scarf -scarves

  1. tooth
  2. cuff
  3. moose
  4. boss
  5. wife
  6. deer
  7. child
  8. fox
  9. giraffe
  10. cliff
  11. echo
  12. bunch
  13. hero
  14. auto
  15. baby
  16. ferry
  17. radio 
  18. studio
  19. sky
  20. flash
  21. potato
  22. man
  23. beach
  24. ship
  25. belief
  26. roof
  27. eye
  28. thief
  29. rodeo
  30. volcano

Exercise 7

Write the plural form of each noun in brackets to complete each sentence correctly.

Example: I bought two ________________ from the shop. (loaf) loaves

  1. I used two different _______________ to cut the rope. (knife)
  2. She peeled the _______________ with a knife. (potato)
  3. They are feeding the noisy _____________. (goose)
  4. The tools are placed on the _____________. (shelf)
  5. Mukami cut a few _______________ for the salad. (tomato)
  6. The ______________ are playing in the field. (child)
  7. Some ______________ are hiding in the ceiling. (mouse)
  8. The ______________ of the buildings must be repaired. (roof)
  9. The music helped them imagine the strange ________________. (story)
  10. Koech used creative ______________ to help young people sharpen their imagination. (activity)

Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Countable Nouns

  • These are nouns that take plurals and can be counted.


    Egg – eggs One egg, three eggs , ten eggs
    Potato - Potatoes Twenty potatoes
    Onion - Onions Two hundred onions
  • Such nouns are known as COUNTABLE or COUNT NOUNS

Uncountable Nouns

  • These are nouns that do not take plurals and cannot be counted.

    Examples : salt, butter, cooking fat, milk, bread, jam

    We do not say:
    - Two butters*
    - Ten milks*
    - Three breads*
  • Such nouns are known as UNCOUNTABLE or MASS NOUNS


Rewrite the words below in two columns, COUNTABLE and UNCOUNTABLE NOUNS

  1. Orange
  2. Coffee
  3. Furniture
  4. tea
  5. Water
  6. gold
  7. Chair
  8. team
  9. Friend
  10. music

Plurals with uncountable Nouns

  • One way to express plurals of uncountable nouns is by use of expressions of quantity.


- a piece of information - pieces of information
- a loaf of bread - four loaves of bread
- a tin of soup - three tins of soup
- a piece of furniture - several pieces of furniture
- a litre of milk - twenty litres of milk
- a bottle of beer - ten bottles of beer


Supply an appropriate expression of quantity for the following uncountable nouns

  1. a........................................... of cigarettes.
  2. two.................................... of cooking oil
  3. three.............................. of jam.
  4. ten............................of butter.
  5. six...........................of soda.
  6. a........................... of toothpaste
  7. three..........................of rice.
  8. five ............................. of flour.
  9. two .............................. of chocolate.
  10. four.......................... of news.

Collective Nouns

  • These are nouns that represent a group of people or things as a single unit.
  • Some collective nouns can take plural forms

    Crowd (s)
    flock (s)
    Group (s)
    herd (s)
    Team (s)
    committee (s)
    Pair (s)
  • Some collective nouns, however, cannot be used in the plural:



When I arrived at the airport, there were ...............1.............. (crowd ) of people blocking the entrance with their .................2..................( luggage ). 

Near the customs sections, several...............3.................(group ) of officials were standing, checking the ..................4.................. (equipment ) that was being loaded onto a trolley. Most people were standing, waiting for... .............5.................(information ) from the loundspeakers onthe departures and arrivals of aircraft.

Compound Nouns

  • A compound noun is a noun that is made up of two or more words. The words that form compound nouns may be joined together, separated or hyphenated.

    - Joined: bookcase, blackboard, pushcart
    - Separated: high school, rabbit hutch, radar gun
    - Hyphenated: go-getter, mother-in-law, sergeant –at-arms
  • Compound nouns are usually a combination of two or more word classes. The most common combinations are as follows;
    1. some are formed by joining a noun with another noun. Most of these compound noun take their plurals in the last words.

      Tableroom (s) grassroot (s) prizefighter(s)
      Cubboard (s) policeman/men rubber-stamp (s)
      Bookcase(s) farmhouse (s) sanitary towel (s)
      Cowshed (s) fruit machine (s) shoulder blade (s)
    2. Some are formed by joining a verb and an adverb. Most of these compound nouns also take their plurals in the last words.

      Breakfast (s) push-up (s) rundown (s)
      Takeaway (s) knockout (s) slip-up (s)
      Sit-up (s) meltdown (s)
    3. Some compound nouns are formed by joining an adjective and a noun. Most of these also take their plurals in the last words.

      Hotdog(s) polar bear(s) safe guard (s)
      Blackboard(s) quicksand
      Highway (s) remote control (s)
      Nuclear power right angle (s)
    4. Some are formed by joining a verb and a noun. Most of these also take their plurals in the last words.

      Driveway (s) playground (s) spend thrift (s)
      Breakdance pushchair (s) go-getter (s)
      Mincemeat screwdriver (s)
      Password (s) spare wheel (s)
    5. Some ore formed by joining an adverb and a noun. Most of these also take their plural in the last words

      Overdraft (s) overcoats (s) backyards (s)
      Backbencher (s) undercoat (s ) backbone (s)
      Backlog (s) underwear ( s) oversight ( s)
    6. A few compound nouns are formed by joining an adverb and a verb. These ones also take their plurals in the last words.

      Outbreak (s) Backlash ( s) Output ( s)
      Outburst (s) Outcast (s) input (s)
    7. A few others are formed by joining a noun and a verb. They also take their plurals in the last words

      Nosedive (s)
      Nightfall (s)
    8. A number of compound nouns are formed by joining two nouns by use f hyphens and a short preposition in between. These compound nouns always take their plurals in the first words.

      Commander (s) - in- chief Sergeant (s) -at-arms
      Mother(s)-in-laws sister(s)-in-law


Underline the compound nouns in the following sentences and write down their plural forms where possible.

  1. John wants to be a quantity surveyor when he grows up.
  2. Rainwater had washed away all the top soil.
  3. The footballer was shown a red card by the referee.
  4. Neither candidate won the elections, forcing a runoff.
  5. The goalkeeper saved a penalty in the second half.
  6. He killed the wild pig with a sledge hammer
  7. Njoroge’s tape-recorder was stolen yesterday.
  8. The theatregoer was disappointed with the show
  9. Size 8’s latest song has caused an uproar
  10. He attempted a creative writing workshop

Possessive Nouns

  • A possessive noun shows who or what owns something. A possessive noun can either be singular or plural.
  • A singular possessive noun shows that one person, place, or thing has or owns something. To make a singular noun show possession, add an apostrophe and s (‘s).

    Example: the feathers of the chick – the chick’s feathers
    the hat that belongs to the man – the man’s hat
    Other examples: the child’s toy
    Mark’s bike
    The fish’s fins
    The horse’s tail
  • Using possessive nouns is shorter and better than other ways of showing possession.


    LONGER: The dog belonging to Papa is barking.
    BETTER: Papa’s dog is barking.

Plural Possessive Nouns

  • A plural possessive noun shows possession or ownership of a plural noun.

    : The cars that belong to the teachers are parked here.
    The teachers’ cars are parked here.
  • When a plural noun ends in s, add only an apostrophe after the s to make the noun show possession.
  • Not all plural nouns end in s. When a plural noun does not end in s, add ‘s to form the plural possession.

    Examples: the shoes of the men – the men’s shoes
    The food of the children – the children’s food
  • The noun following a possessive noun may either be the name of a thing or a quality.
    Example: ThingKoki’s raincoat
                              – Brian’s umbrella

    Qualitythe judge’s fury
                – Bob’s courage

Exercise 8

Change the following phrases to show possession in a shorter way.

Example: the claws of the leopard
the leopard’s claws.

  1. the tail of the lion
  2. the dog that Cliff has
  3. the hat of my mother
  4. the book that Evans owns
  5. the pot that the child has
  6. the name of the doll
  7. the mobile phone that Lucy owns
  8. the shoes that Kimani has
  9. the teeth that the fox has
  10. the rabbit that my friend owns

Summary of rules of forming Possessive Nouns

  1. For singular a noun, add an apostrophe and s.
    Example: Mr. Mukui’s car is a Toyota Corolla.
  2. For plural a noun ending in s, add an apostrophe only.
    Example: The victim’s property was stolen
  3. For a plural noun that does not end in s, add an apostrophe and s.
    Example: The women’s boots were muddy.
 Singular Noun   Singular possessive  Plural Noun   Plural possessive
 boy  boy's  boys  boys'
 child  child's  children  children's
 mouse  mouses's  mice  mice's
 deer  deer's  deer  deer's

Exercise 9

Write the following phrases to show possession.

Example: teachers – pens = teachers’ pens

  1. Cooks – aprons
  2. Women – sports
  3. Men – boots
  4. Carpenters – nails
  5. Countries – flags
  6. Sailors – uniforms
  7. Guests – coats
  8. Musicians – instruments
  9. Athletes – medal
  10. Neighbours – pets

Exercise 10

Rewrite the following sentences changing the BOLD words to plural possessive nouns.

Example: The players on the teams practised after school.

The team’s players practised after school.

  1. Each day the wealth of the couple increased.
  2. There was a team of men and a team of women.
  3. The uniforms that the teams wore were new.
  4. Numbers were printed on the shirts of the athletes
  5. Scores made by the team-mates were put on the scoreboard.
  6. The players enjoyed the cheers of their friends.
  7. The whistles of the coaches stopped the game.
  8. The eyes of the children were full of tears of joy.
  9. The soothing voices of their mothers calmed them.
  10. However, the houses belonging to their neighbours were destroyed.


Exercise 1

  1. students, party
  2. boys, songs
  3. Excitement, air
  4. Joyce Chepkemoi, prize
  5. Otieno, house, street

Exercise 2

  1. candle – thing 
  2. guitar – thing
  3. wrestler – person
  4. China – place
  5. joy – idea
  6. hatred – idea
  7. Menengai Crater – place
  8. Masanduku arap Simiti – person

Exercise 3

  1. musicians, drums, trumpets
  2. family, village
  3. Petronilla, trip
  4. festival, Kenyatta University
  5. people, costumes, streets
  6. Boys, Scouts, sniforms, parade
  7. holiday, excitement
  8. Taxi, family, airport
  9. Maryanne, castle, sand
  10. mother, water

Exercise 4

Proper nouns          Common nouns
July                          book
England                    face
Kendu Bay                crocodiles
John Hopkins            student
Johannesburg           life
America                   business
East Africa               day

Exercise 5

  1. Proper – Lucky Dube
    Common – singer
  2. Proper – London, Paris
    Common – dancer
  3. Proper – Mediterranean sea
    Common – flight
  4. Proper – Second World War
    Common – nurse
  5. Common – goal, students, world
  6. Proper – Europe
    Common – accident
  7. Proper – Bill Gates, Microsoft
  8. Common – pilot, woman, ocean
  9. Common – kettle, water
  10. Proper – Professor Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize

Exercise 6

  1. tooth – teeth
  2. cuffs
  3. moose
  4. bosses
  5. wives
  6. deer
  7. children
  8. foxes
  9. giraffes
  10. cliff
  11. echoes
  12. bunches
  13. heroes
  14. autos
  15. babies
  16. ferries
  17. radios
  18. studios 
  19. skies
  20. flashes
  21. potatoes
  22. men
  23. beaches
  24. ships
  25. beliefs
  26. roofs
  27. eyes
  28. thieves
  29. rodeos
  30. volcanoes/volcanos

Exercise 7

  1. knives
  2. potatoes
  3. geese
  4. shelves
  5. tomatoes
  6. children
  7. mice
  8. roofs
  9. stories
  10. activities

Exercise 8

  1. the lion’s tail
  2. Cliff’s dog
  3. my mother’s hat
  4. Evan’s book
  5. the child’s pet
  6. the doll’s name
  7. Lucy’s mobile phone
  8. Kimani’s shoes
  9. the fox’s teeth
  10. my friend’s rabbit

Exercise 9

  1. cook’s aprons
  2. women’s sports
  3. men’s boots
  4. carpenter’s nails
  5. countries’ flags
  6. sailors’ uniforms
  7. guests’ coats
  8. musicians’ instruments
  9. athlete’s medals
  10. neighbours’ pets

Exercise 10

  1. The couple’s wealth
  2. a men’s team, a women’s team
  3. The teams’ uniforms
  4. the athletes’ shirts
  5. The team-mates’ scores
  6. their friends’ cheers
  7. The coaches’ whistles
  8. The children’s eyes
  9. Their mothers’ soothing voices
  10. their neighbours’ house
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