In the English language, a noun is a word that specifies a person, a place, a thing, or an idea. Any physical object in the room or topic of discussion can be identified with these words called nouns. Not all nouns are the same, though. There are common nouns, and then there are proper nouns, and the difference is very important.
In this guide, we’ll cover what sorts of words qualify as common nouns, and provide some examples of common nouns to help you separate them from proper nouns.
If you want to leanr more, check out this introductory English grammar course for an overview of grammar essentials.
Common Nouns vs. Proper Nouns
Common nouns are words used to refer to general people, places, or things, or more technically, a specific class or type of person, place, or thing. These are words like car, or city, or teacher. They are broad, general terms.
Proper nouns are names given to refer to specific common nouns. For instance, car becomes Honda, city becomes Tokyo, teacher becomes Ms. Wong. As we stated before, car, city, and teacher are all common nouns. It’s Honda, Tokyo, and Ms. Wong that are proper nouns.
Another primary grammatical difference between common nouns and proper nouns is capitalization. Unless the common noun is the first word in a sentence, or part of a title, it should not be capitalized in the middle of a sentence.
- Correct: “Where did you park your car? What kind of car do you have?”
- Incorrect: “Where did you park your Car? What kind of Car do you have?”
Proper nouns, on the other hand, should always be capitalized, because they are names.
- Correct: “I don’t remember where I parked my car. I drive a Honda.”
- Incorrect: “I don’t remember where I parked my Car. I drive a honda.”
Common Noun Categories
There are different classifications of common nouns that encompass the range of people, places, and things represented with these words. Many nouns fall into multiple categories, but for a word to qualify as a common noun, it must fall into at least one of the following.
- Abstract nouns: ideas and concepts that are not directly tangible.
- Collective nouns: words that describe groupings of other nouns.
- Compound nouns: words that are constructed by combining two or more words.
- Concrete nouns: things that you can touch or see.
- Non-countable nouns: objects or ideas that you can’t count; lacks a plural form.
- Gender-specific nouns: nouns that are specifically gendered either masculine or feminine.
- Verbal nouns: also known as gerunds, these are words that describe actions, ending in -ing.
Examples of Common Nouns
Below you’ll find multiple examples of common nouns, and a few proper nouns for comparison, divided by category for easy identification.
For reference, this list will be formatted with common noun first, and proper noun second, in italics, like so:
- common noun – proper noun
This will only be the case for noun categories or words where proper nouns exist. You can read up on more English grammar concepts in this guide.
- bus stop
- swimming pool
- box set
- coffee table
- soda – Coke
- car- Toyota
- tissue- Kleenex
- bandage – Band-Aid
- gelatin – Jell-O
- restaurant – Panda Express
- supermarket – Target
- mall – Westfield Galleria
- city – San Francisco
- street – Park Avenue
- country – Japan
- river – Amazon River
- lake- Lake Erie
- ocean – Pacific Ocean
- tea – Earl Grey
- coffee – Folgers
- school – Harvard University
- backpack – Jansport
Non-countable nouns lack a plural form, and should fall into at least one of these categories:
- Concept – intelligence, honesty, happiness
- Activity – homework, sleep
- Food – rice, milk, butter, bread, cheese, bacon
- Gas – oxygen, air, steam
- Liquid – water, beer, coffee, wine, juice
- Material – leather, wood, metal, cloth, spandex
- Item Type – money, software, clothing
- Natural Phenomenon – rain, gravity, fog, snow, thunder
- Particles – sand, dust, flour
Gender-Specific Nouns Nouns
- actress – Lupita Nyong’o
- actor – Kevin Spacey
- duchess – Duchess of Cambridge
- duke – Duke of Edinburgh
Want to learn more? There are a ton of awesome English grammar courses available for you to take. You could check out this travel English guide for a specifically catered look at the language, or this introduction to English grammar course for a more in-depth approach.