English Grammar Guide


We use them all the time, but what is a noun?

A noun is a word which is used to name a person, an animal, a place, a thing, or an abstract idea. Nouns are usually the words we learn first when we are young.

Noun Gender

In English, nouns rarely change their form, even to indicate gender. The nouns 'Person' and 'People' do not refer to a specific gender, and the majority of nouns are gender-neutral. However, some nouns indicate gender, such as policeman or policewoman. Regardless of the noun, adjectives used to modify the noun do not change to reflect gender.

Common nouns which reflect gender in people:

  • man -- woman

  • gentleman -- lady

  • actor -- actress

  • waiter -- waitress

  • uncle -- aunt

  • father -- mother

  • policeman -- policewoman

  • nephew -- neice

  • uncle -- aunt

Common nouns which reflect gender in animals:  (Shown M/F)

  • a buck -- a doe

  • a ram -- a ewe

  • a bull -- a cow

  • a stallion -- a mare

If it is necessary, the word "male" or "female" can added as an adjective to describe gender:

  • a female cat

  • a male giraffe

If the gender of the person or animal is known, we generally use the pronoun "he" or "she" to refer to it. When the gender is unknown or irrelevant, the pronoun 'he' or 'they' is generally used when speaking about people, or 'it' when speaking about animals. On occasion, for personal reasons, people will apply a gender to nouns. For example, some people may use 'She' to refer to a boat or a car.

Some nouns (especially the names of professions) are traditionally associated with men or women, so we can add 'woman', 'lady', 'female', 'man' or 'male' to the noun to demonstrate an exception.

  • They are in a group of male dancers.

  • My wife prefers to see a woman doctor.

However, the current fashion in English is to remove all references to gender when referring to jobs, and to use the word 'Person' instead. So, you may occasionally find 'new' nouns such as 'Police Person'.

Plural Nouns

Most countable nouns can be changed from singular to plural by adding "-s" or "-es" to the end of the noun. For example:

  • shoe -- shoes

  • book -- books

  • river -- rivers

There are other nouns which can be changed from singular to plural by changing the last letter before adding "s". Some words ending in "f" form the plural by deleting "f" and adding "ves," and words ending in "y" form the plural by deleting the "y" and adding "ies". For example:

  • wharf -- wharves

  • scarf -- scarves

  • city -- cities

  • fly -- flies

  • party -- parties

  • supply -- supplies

Nouns ending in 's' or 'ss' are usually given the ending '-es'. For example:

  • bus -- buses

  • kiss -- kisses

Some nouns are irregular in the plural:

  • one man -- two men

  • one woman -- two women

  • one person -- two people

  • one foot -- two feet

  • one mouse -- two mice

  • one goose -- two geese

  • one tooth -- two teeth

  • one wife -- two wives

  • one child -- two children

  • one knife -- two knives

  • one thief -- two thieves

  • one dwarf -- two dwarves (or dwarfs)

  • one potato -- two potatoes

  • one leaf -- two leaves

  • one life -- two lives

  • one loaf -- two loaves

  • one half -- two halves

A few nouns do not change form in the plural:

  • one moose -- two moose

  • one sheep -- two sheep

  • one aircraft -- two aircraft

Words of Greek or Latin origin which have retained their original endings generally use the plural form from the language they originate from:

  • one alumnus -- two alumni

  • one syllabus -- two syllabi

  • one alumna -- two alumnae

  • one alga -- many algae

  • one criterion -- many criteria

  • one forum -- many fora (or  forums)

  • one thesis -- two theses

  • one hypothesis -- two hypotheses

  • one phenomenon -- two phenomena

  • one cactus -- two cacti (or  cactuses)

  • one diagnosis -- two diagnoses

  • one oasis -- two oases

  • one analysis -- two analyses

Collective nouns

Some nouns are collective and never change, always indicating a plural meaning:

  • She gave me some information.

  • Michelle has a lot of clothes.

Capital letters

Certain nouns are generally capitalized, including: days of the week and months; names of holidays, cities (or states, etc.) and religions; nouns of nationality:

  • London

  • Muslim

  • Saturday

  • April