name, or any word or words used as a
Ball, house, fish, John, Mary, are all
names, and are therefore nouns.
walk in the open air is pleasant in summer evenings.” The two words to
walk are used as the name of an action; to walk is therefore a
The word noun comes from the Latin
nomen, a name. From this word
we have also nominal, denominate, denomination, etc.
THE CLASSIFICATION OF NOUNS.
2. Nouns are of two classes—Proper
proper noun is the name of
an individual, as an individual, and
not as one of a class.
John, Mary, London, Birmingham, Shakespeare,
Milton, are all proper nouns.
The word proper comes from the Latin
proprius, one’s own. Hence a
proper noun is, in relation to one person, one’s own name.
From the same word we have appropriate, to make one’s own; expropriate,
(i) Proper nouns are always written with a capital letter at the beginning; and
so also are the words derived from them. Thus we write France, French,
Frenchified; Milton, Miltonic; Shakespeare, Shakespearian.
(ii) Proper nouns, as such, have no meaning. They are merely marks to
indicate a special person or place. They had, however, originally a meaning. The
persons now called Armstrong, Smith, Greathead, no doubt had ancestors
who were strong in the arm, who did the work of smiths, or who had large heads.
(iii) A proper noun may be used as a common noun, when it is employed not
to mark an individual, but to indicate one of a class. Thus we can say,
“He is the Milton of his age,” meaning by this that he possesses the
qualities which all those poets have who are like Milton.
(iv) We can also speak of “the Howards,” “the Smiths,” meaning a number of
persons who are called Howard or who are called Smith.
common noun is the name of a
person, place, or thing, considered
not merely as an individual, but as
one of a class. Horse, town, boy, table, are
The word common comes from the Lat. communis, “shared by
several”; and we find it also in community, commonalty, etc.
(i) A common noun is so called because it belongs
in common to all the
persons, places, or things in the same class.
(ii) The name rabbit marks off, or distinguishes, that animal from all
other animals; but it does not distinguish one rabbit from another—it is
common to all animals of the class. Hence we may say: a common
noun distinguishes from without; but it does not distinguish within its own bounds.
(iii) Common nouns have a meaning; proper nouns have not. The latter
have a meaning; but the meaning is generally not appropriate. Thus persons
called Whitehead and Longshanks may be dark and short. Hence such
names are merely signs, and not significant marks
5. Common nouns are generally subdivided
(ii) Collective nouns.
(iii) Abstract nouns.
(i) Under class-names are
included not only ordinary names, but also the names of materials—as tea, sugar, wheat, water. The names of materials can be used in the plural when
different kinds of the material are meant. Thus we say “fine teas,”
“coarse sugars,” when we mean fine kinds of tea, etc.
(ii) A collective noun
is the name of a collection of persons or things,
looked upon by the mind
as one. Thus we say
committee, parliament, crowd;
and think of
these collections of persons as each one body.
(iii) An abstract noun is
the name of a quality, action, or state, considered in itself, and as
abstracted from the thing or person in which it really exists. Thus, we see
a number of lazy persons, and think of laziness as a quality in itself,
abstracted from the persons. (From Lat. abs, from; tractus, drawn.)
(a) The names of arts and sciences are abstract nouns, because they are the
names of processes of thought, considered apart and abstracted from the
persons who practise them. Thus, music, painting, grammar, chemistry,
astronomy, are abstract nouns.
(iv) Abstract nouns are (a) derived from adjectives, as
hardness, dullness, sloth,
from hard, dull, and slow; or (b) from verbs, as growth, thought,
from grow and think.
(v) Abstract nouns are
sometimes used as collective nouns. Thus we say “the nobility and gentry” for
“the nobles and gentlemen” of the land.
(vi) Abstract nouns are formed
from other words by the addition of such endings as ness, th, ery, hood,
The following is a summary of the
divisions of nouns:—
THE INFLEXIONS OF NOUNS.
7. Nouns can be inflected or changed.
They are inflected to indicate
Gender, Number, and
We must not, however, forget that differences
of gender, number, or case are not always indicated by inflexion.
is a Latin word which means bending. An inflexion, therefore, is a
bending away from the ordinary form of the word.
8. Gender is, in grammar, the mode of
distinguishing sex by the aid of words, prefixes, or suffixes.
gender comes from the Lat. genus, generis (Fr. genre), a kind or sort. We have the same word
in generic, general, etc. (The
gender is no organic or
true part of the word; it has been inserted as a kind of cushion between the
n and the r.)
(i) Names of
are said to be of the masculine gender, as
master, lord, Harry.
Lat. mas, a male.
(ii) Names of females
are of the feminine gender, as
mistress, lady, Harriet. Lat.
femina, a woman. (From the same word we have
(iii) Names of things without
sex are of the neuter gender, as
head, tree, London. Lat.
neuter, neither. (From the same word we have
(iv) Names of animals, the sex
of which is not indicated, are said to be of
the common gender.
Thus, sheep, bird, hawk, parent, servant, are common, because they may be
of either gender.
(v) We may sum up thus:—
(vi) If we
things, passions, powers, or natural forces, we may make them either masculine
or feminine. Thus the Sun, Time,
the Ocean, Anger, War, a
river, are generally made masculine. On the other hand, the
Earth (“Mother Earth”),
Virtue, a ship, Religion, Pity, Peace,
are generally spoken of as feminine.
(vii) Sex is a distinction
between animals; gender a distinction between
nouns. In Old
English, nouns ending in dom, as freedom, were masculine; nouns in
goodness, feminine; and nouns in
chicken, always neuter. But we have lost all these distinctions, and, in
modern English, gender always follows sex.
There are three ways
of marking gender:—
(i) By the use of Suffixes.
(ii) By Prefixes (or by
(iii) By using distinct words
for the names of the male and female.
MARKED BY SUFFIXES.
English or Teutonic Suffixes.
There are now in our
language only two purely English suffixes used to mark the feminine gender, and
these are used in only two words. The two endings are
and the two words are vixen
(i) Vixen is the
feminine of fox; and
spinner (spinder or
spinther, which, later on, became
spider). King Alfred, in his
writings, speaks of “the spear-side and the spindle-side of a house” — meaning
the men and the women.
(ii) Ster was used as a
feminine suffix very largely in Old English. Thus, webster was a
woman-weaver; baxter (or bagster), a
female baker; hoppester, a woman-dancer; redester, a woman-reader; huckster,
hawker (travelling merchant); and so on.
(iii) In Ancient English
(Anglo-Saxon) the masculine ending was a, and the feminine
in wicca, wicce, witch. Hence we find the names of many Saxon kings
ending in a, as
Isa, Offa, Penda, etc.
B. Latin and
The chief feminine
ending which we have received from the French is
(Latin, issa). This
is also the only feminine suffix with a living force at the present day—the only
suffix we could add to any new word that might be adopted by us from a foreign
12. The following are
nouns whose feminines end in ess:—
Lass (= ladess)
will be noticed that, besides adding
ess, some of the letters undergo
change or are thrown out altogether.
There are other feminine suffixes of a foreign
origin, such as ine, a, and trix.
(i) ine is a Greek
ending, and is found in heroine. A similar ending in
and margravine, the feminines of landgrave (a German count) and margrave
(a lord of the Mark or of
marches), is German.
(ii) a is an Italian or
Spanish ending, and is found in donna (the feminine of
gentleman), infanta (=
the child, the heiress to the crown of
Spain), sultana, and signora (the feminine of
Italian for Senior, elder, which we have compressed into
(iii) trix is a purely
Latin ending, and is found only in those words that have come to us directly
from Latin; as testator, testatrix (a person who has mad a will), executor, executrix
(a person who carries out the directions of a will).
INDICATED BY PREFIXES (OR BY
The distinction between the masculine and the feminine gender is indicated by
using such words as man, maid — bull, cow — he, she — cock, hen, as
to the nouns mentioned. In the oldest English,
cwen (= queen) were employed to mark gender; and carl-fugol
is = cock-fowl, cwen-fugol = hen-fowl.
The following are the most important words of this kind:—
Woman (= wife-man)
(i) In the time of
Shakespeare, he and
she were used as nouns. We find such phrases
as “The proudest he,” “The fairest she,” “That not impossible she.”
III. GENDER INDICATED BY DIFFERENT WORDS
15. The use of different
words for the masculine and the feminine does not really belong to grammatical
gender. It may be well, however, to note some of the most important:—
Ram (or Wether)
Bachelor (lit., a cow-boy), from Low Lat. baccalarius; from bacca, Low Lat.
for vacca, a cow. Hence also
(ii) Girl, from Low German gör, a child, by the addition of the diminutive
(iii) Filly, the dim.
of foal. (When a syllable is added, the previous vowel is often modified:
as in cat, kitten; cock, chicken; cook, kitchen.)
(iv) Drake, formerly
endrake; end = duck, and rake = king. The word therefore means
king of the ducks. (The word rake appears in another form in the
bishopric = the
ric or kingdom or domain of a
(v) Drone, from the
droning sound it makes.
(vi) Earl, from A.S. eorl, a warrior.
Countess comes from the French word
cognate of fat, food, feed, fodder, foster, etc.
(viii) Goose; in the
oldest A.S. gans;
Gandr-a (the a being the sign of the
masc.). Hence gander, the
d being inserted as a cushion between
r, as in
thunder, gender, etc.
(ix) Hart = the horned
(x) Mare, the fem.
of A.S. mearh, a horse. Hence also
marshal, which at first meant
(xi) Husband, from
Icelandic, husbondi, the master of the house. A farmer in Norway is
called a bonder.
(xii) King, a
contraction of A.S. cyning, son of the kin or tribe.
(xiii) Lord, a
contraction of A.S. hláford—from
hláf, a loaf, and
ward or keeper.
(xiv) Lady, a
contraction of A.S. hlaéfdige, a loaf-kneader.
(xv) The old A.S. words were
(xvi) Woman = wife-man.
The pronunciation of
women (wimmen) comes nearer to the old
form of the word. See note on (iii).
(xvii) Sir, from Lat. senior, elder.
(xviii) Madam, from Lat.
Mea domina (through the French
Ma dame) = my lady.
(xix) Daughter = milker.
Connected with dug.
(xx) Wizard, from old
French guiscart, prudent.
Witch has no connection with
16. All feminine nouns
are formed from the masculine, with four exceptions:
which come respectively from bride, widow, goose,
(i) Bridegroom was in
A.S. brýdguma = the bride’s man. (Guma
is a cognate of the Lat.
hom-o, a man—whence
(ii) Widower. The
old masc. was widuwa; the fem. widuwe. It was then forgotten that
widuwa was a masculine, and a new masculine had to be formed from
17. Number is, in nouns,
the mode of indicating whether we are speaking of one thing or of more.
The English language,
like most modern languages, has two numbers: the
singular and the
comes from the Lat. singuli, one by one;
plural, from the Lat. plures, more (than one).
(ii) Mr Barnes, the eminent Dorsetshire poet, who has written an excellent grammar, called ‘Speech-craft,’
calls them onely and
There are three chief
ways of forming the plural in English:—
(i) By adding es or s
to the singular.
(ii) By adding en.
(iii) By changing the
20. First Mode.—The
plural is formed by adding es
or s. The ending
modern form of the old A.S. plural in
stanas, stones. The
following are examples:—
(i) It will be seen that es
in heroes does not add a syllable to the sing.
(ii) Nouns ending in f change the sharp
f into a flat v, as in beeves, etc. But we
say roofs, cliffs, dwarfs, chiefs,
(iii) An old singular of lady
was ladie; and this spelling is preserved in the plural. But there has
arisen a rule on this point in modern English, which may be thus stated:—
Y, with a
vowel before it, is not changed in the plural. Thus we
write keys, valleys, chimneys, days,
Y, with a consonant before it, is changed into
s is added for
the plural. Thus we write ladies, rubies, and also
(iv) Beef is not now used
as the word for a single ox. Shakespeare has the phrase “beef-witted” = with no
more sense than an ox.
21. Second Mode.—The
plural is formed by adding en
Thus we have
children, brethren, and
(i) Children is a double
plural. The oldest plural was cild-r-u, which became
was forgotten that this was a proper plural, and en was added.
Brethren is also a double plural.
En was added to the old Northern
plural brether — the oldest plural being brothr-u.
(ii) Kine is also a
double plural of cow. The oldest plural was cŷ, and this still
exists in Scotland in the form of kye. Then
ne was added.
22. Third Mode.—The
plural is formed by changing the vowel-sound
of the word. The following
(i) To understand this, we must
observe that when a new syllable is added to a word, the vowel of the
preceding syllable is often weakened. Thus we find nātion, nătional; fox,
vixen. Now the oldest plurals of the above words had an additional syllable;
and it is to this that the change in the vowel is due.
There are in English
several nouns with two plural forms, with different meanings. The
following is a list:—
Brothers (by blood)
Cloths (kinds of cloth)
Dies (stamps for coining)
Fishes (looked at separately)
Geniuses (men of talent)
Indexes (to books)
Peas (taken separately)
Pennies (taken separately)
Shots (separate discharges)
Brethren (of a community)
Dice (cubes for gaming)
Fish (taken collectively)
Genii (powerful spirits)
Indices (to quantities in algebra)
Pease (taken collectively)
Pence (taken collectively)
Shot (balls, collectively)
(i) Pea is a false
singular. The s belongs to the root; and we find in Middle English “as
big as a pease,” and the plurals
pesen and peses.
Some nouns have the
same form in the plural as in the singular. Such are
deer, sheep, cod, trout,
mackerel, and others.
(i) Most of these nouns were,
in Old English, neuter.
(ii) A special plural is
found in such phrases as: A troop of horse; a company of foot; ten sail of
the line; three brace of birds; six gross of steel pens; ten stone weight,
etc. In fact, the names of numbers, weights, measures, etc., are not put into
the plural form. Thus we say ten hundredweight, five score, five fathom, six
brace. In Old English we also said
forty year, sixty winter;
still say, a twelvemonth, a fortnight
(= fourteen nights).
There are in English
several false plurals—that is, real singulars which look like plurals.
These are alms, riches,
Alms is a
compressed form of the A.S. aelmesse (which is from the Greek
eleēmosunē). We find in Acts iii. 3, “an alms.” The adjective connected with
it is eleemosynary.
(ii) Riches comes from
the French richesse.
(iii) Eaves is the modern
form of the A.S. efese,
a margin or edge.
There are in English
several plural forms that are regarded and treated
The following is a list:—
(i) Smallpox = small
There are many nouns
that, from the nature of the case,
only in the plural.
These are the names of things (a) That consist of
parts; or (b) That are taken
in the mass.
(a) The following is a
list of the first:—
(b) The following
is a list of the second:—
must be noticed that several nouns—some of them in the above class—change their
meaning entirely when made plural. Thus—
The English language
has adopted many foreign plurals. These, (a) when fully naturalised, make
their plurals in the usual English way; (b) when not naturalised, or
imperfectly, keep their own proper plurals.
(a) As examples of the
first kind, we have—
Bandits, cherubs, dogmas, indexes,
memorandums, focuses, formulas, terminuses, etc.
(b) As examples of the
second, we find—
(i) The Greek plurals acoustics, ethics, mathematics, optics, politics,
etc., were originally adjectives. We now say logic—but
which still survives in the Irish Universities—was the older word.
Compounds attach the
sign of the plural to the leading word,
especially if that word be a
noun. These may be divided into three classes:—
When the plural sign is added to the Noun, as: sons-in-law, hangers-on,
When the compound word is treated as one word, as: attorney-generals,
major-generals, court-martials, spoonfuls, handfuls, etc.
When both parts of the compound take the plural sign, as: men-servants,
knights-templars, lords-justices, etc.
Case is the
form given to a noun to show its
relation to other
words in the sentence. Our language has lost most of these forms; but we still
use the word case to indicate the
even when the
has been lost.
(i) The word case is from
the Latin casus, and means a falling. The old grammarians regarded the
nominative as the upright case,
and all others as fallings from
that. Hence the use of the words decline and
course the nominative cannot be a real case, because it is upright and
not a falling.)
five cases; Nominative, Possessive, Dative, Objective,
(i) In Nouns, only one of these is inflected, or has a
case-ending — the Possessive.
(ii) In Pronouns, the Possessive, Dative, and Objective are inflected.
But the inflexion for the Dative and the Objective is the same. Him and
them are indeed true Datives: the old inflection for the Objective was
The following are
definitions of these cases:—
(1) The Nominative Case is the case of the subject.
(2) The Possessive Case
indicates possession, or some similar relation.
(3) The Dative Case is
the case of the Indirect Object,
and also the case governed by certain
(4) The Objective Case is
the case of the Direct Object.
(5) The Vocative Case is
the case of the person spoken to.
It is often called the
(i) Nominative comes from the Lat.
nomināre, to name. From the same root we have
(ii) Dative comes from the Lat.
dativus, given to.
(iii) Vocative comes from the Lat.
vocativus, spoken to or
Case answers to the question
What? It has always a
verb that goes with it, and asserts something about it.
Case has the ending
’s in the singular;
in the plural, when
the plural of the noun ends in
only when the plural ends
possessive case is kept chiefly for nouns that are the
names of living
beings. We cannot say “the book’s page” or “the box’s lid,” though in poetry
we can say “the temple’s roof,” etc. There are may points that require to be
specially noted about the possessive:—
(i) The apostrophe (from Gr.
a turning) stands in the
place of a lost e, the possessive in O.E. having been in many cases es. In the last century the printers always put
hop’d, walk’d, etc.,
for hoped, walked, etc. The use of the apostrophe is quite modern.
(ii) If the singular noun ends in s, we often, but not always, write
Moses’ rod, for conscience’ sake, Phœbus’ fire; and yet we say, and ought to
say, Jones’s books, Wilkins’s hat, St James’s, Chambers’s Journal, etc.
(iii) We find in the Prayer-Book, “For Jesus Christ
his sake.” This arose
from the fact that the old possessive in es was sometimes written
and hence the corruption into his. Then it came to be fancied that
was a short form of his. But this is absurd, for two reasons:—
We cannot say that “the girl’s book” is = the girl his book.
We cannot say that “the men’s tools” is = the men his tools.
How shall we account
for the contradictory forms Lord’s-day,
and for the curious
(i) Lady-day, Friday,
and Monday are fragments of the possessive of feminine Nouns in O.E. The oldest
feminine possessive ended in an,
which was then shortened into
ladyē, lastly into lady. So with Frija, the goddess of love; and with
Moon, which was feminine. Thus
we see that in Lady-day, Friday,
and Monday we have old feminine
possessives. The word witenagemot
means the meet or meeting of the witan, or wise men, the possessive of which was
answers to the question
whom? It has
its form is the
same as that of the Objective.
it has a very clear and distinct
in modern English. This
function is seen in such sentences as—
handed the lady a chair.
me a boat!
worth the day! (=Woe come to the day!)
Heaven send the Prince a better companion!
Heaven send the companion a better Prince!
(6) “Sirrah, knock
me at this gate,
here, knock me well, and knock
(Shakespeare, “Taming of the Shrew,” I.ii.31.)
I heard a cry! (= Meseems.)
me the salt, if you please.
Some grammarians prefer to call
this the Case of the Indirect Object;
but the term will hardly apply to
me in (3) and (7). In all the other sentences, the dative
may be changed into an objective with the prep.
(i) In the sixth sentence, the me’s are sometimes called
(ii) In the seventh sentence,
methought is = meseems, or
seems to me. There were in O.E. two verbs—thincan, to seem; and
thencan, to think.
(iii) In the eighth sentence the phrase
if you please is = if it
please you, and the you is a dative. If the
you were a
nominative, the phrase would mean if you are a pleasing person, or if
you please me.
is always governed by an
active-transitive verb or a
It answers to the question
It is generally
placed after the verb. Its form is
different from that of the Nominative
but is the
same in nouns.
(i) The direct object is sometimes called the
reflexive object when the nominative and the objective refer to the same person—as, “I
hurt myself;” “Turn (thou)
thee, O Lord!” etc.
(ii) When the direct object is akin with the verb in meaning, it is
sometimes called the cognate object.
The cognate object is found in such
phrases as: To die the death; to run a race; to fight a fight,
(iii) A second direct object after such verbs as
appoint, think, suffer, etc., is often called the
factitive object. For example: The Queen made him a
general; the Board appointed
him manager; we thought him a good
Factitive comes from the
Latin facěre, to make.
The difference between the Nominative and the Vocative cases is this: The
Nominative case must always have a
verb with it; the Vocative
This is plain from the sentences:—
(i) John did that.
(ii) Don’t do that, John!
Two nouns that indicate the same person or thing are said to be
apposition; and two nouns in apposition may be in any case.
(i) But, though the two nouns are in the
case, only one of them has the
the case. Thus we say, “John the gardener’s mother is dead.” Now, both John and
gardener are in the possessive case; and yet it is only
gardener that takes the sign of the possessive.