1. Kinds and function

A. There are four kinds of nouns in English:
Common nouns: dog, table, man
Proper nouns: Tom, France, Madrid, Mrs Smith
Abstract nouns: charity, beauty, fear, courage, joy
Collective nouns: swarm, team, crowd, flock, group

B. A noun can function as:
The subject of a verb: Tom arrived.
The subject complement to the verb be, become, seem: Tom is an actor.
The object of a verb: I saw Tom.
The object of a preposition: I spoke to Tom.

A noun can also be in the possessive case:
Plato's works = the works of Plato

2. Gender

Masculine: men, boys, and male animals (pronoun he/they).
Feminine: women, girls and female animals (pronoun she/they).
Neuter: inanimate things, animals whose sex we don't know and sometimes babies whose sex we don't know (pronoun it/they).

Ships are considered feminine and sometimes cars and other vehicles when regarded with affection or respect.

Countries when referred to by name are also normally considered feminine.
parent    painter    driver    singer    cousin    child    artist    cook    judge    rider

Some have different forms:
brother, sister    uncle, aunt    nephew, niece
lord, lady    duke, duchess    count, countess    prince, princess
bull, cow    horse, mare    cock, hen    drake, duck

Some form the feminine from the masculine by adding ess. Note that words ending in or er often drop the o or e:
actor, actress    conductor, conductress
but manager, manageress
Note also:
salesman, saleswoman,    spokesman, spokeswoman    chairman, chairwoman
Recently there has been an attempt to do de-sex these words by using -person instead of -man: salesperson, chairperson etc. This fashion may not last.

3. Plurals
The plurals of a noun is usually made by adding s to the singular:
dog, dogs    day, days    house,    houses


A. Nouns ending in o or ss, sh, ch or x

form their plural by adding es:

tomato, tomatoes    kiss, kisses,    brush, brushes    watch, watches    box, boxes

But words of foreign origin or abbreviated words ending in o adds s only:
piano, pianos    dynamo, dynamos    photo, photos,    kimono, kimonos    biro, biros

B. Nouns ending in y following a consonant form their plural by dropping the y and adding ies:
baby, babies    lady, ladies    country, countries    fly, flies

Nouns ending in y following a vowel form their plural by adding s only:
donkey, donkeys    boy, boys    day, days

C. Twelve nouns ending in f or fe drop the f or fe and add ves. These nouns are wife, life, knife, wolf, self, calf, shelf, leaf, loaf, thief, sheaf, half:
wife, wives    wolf, wolves    loaf, loaves etc.

The  nouns scarf, wharf and hoof take either s or es in the plural:
scarfs or scarves    wharfs, wharves    hoofs, hooves

Other words ending in f or fe add s in the plural in the ordinary way:
cliff, cliffs    handkerchief, handkerchiefs,    safe, safes

D. A few nouns form their plural by a vowel change:
man, men    louse    lice    foot, feet    mouse, mice    woman, women    goose, geese    tooth, teeth    ox, oxen
The plural of child is children.

E. Names of certain creatures do not change in the plural.
The word fish is normally unchanged. Fishes exists but is uncommon.

Some types of fish do not normally change in the plural: 

salmon, trout, squid, pike, mackerel, cod, turbot, plaice; but if used in a plural sense they would take a plural verb. Others, however, do change. We talk of herrings, sardines, lobsters, crabs and all other shellfish, whales, dolphins, sharks, eels.

sheep and deer do not change: one sheep, two sheep.

Sportsmen who shoot duck, pheasant, partridge, snipe, ptarmigan, teal, woodcock, grouse etc. use the same form for singular and plural. But other people normally add s to the plural form of names of birds in common use:
ducks    pheasants    partridges

The word game, used by sportsmen to mean an animal/animals hunted, is always in the singular, and takes a singular verb.

F. A few other words don't change:
aircraft, craft (boat/boats)
quid (slang for 1 pound)
counsel (barristers working in court)

Certain words are always singular:
advice    knowledge    baggage    furniture    information    news    luggage    rubbish

Certain words are always plural: police, clothes; garments consisting of two parts: pyjamas, trousers, breeches, pants etc.; tools or instruments consisting of two parts: binoculars, glasses, spectacles, pliers, shears, scissors, scales; and premises and quarters (used to mean accommodation).

All the above words take a plural verb.

There are also a number of words ending in ics, mathematics, physics, acoustics, politics, hysterics, ethics, athletics etc., which have a plural form and normally take a plural verb;

Athletics are his main interest.
His mathematics are weak.

But names of sciences, e.g., mathematics, physics, acoustics, politics, ethics, can be considered singular in such sentences as:
Mathematics is an exact science.
Ethics is one of the subjects on the course.

Some measurements and numerals do not change either.

G. Words which retain their original Greek or Latin forms make their plurals according to the rules of Greek or Latin;

erratum, errata    memorandum, memoranda    radius, radii    datum, data crisis, crises    phenomenon, phenomena    terminus, termini    basis, bases    oasis, oases     axis, axes    thesis, theses

But there is a tendency, particularly with fairly common Latin or Greek words, to make the plural according to the rules of English:
dogma, dogmas
gymnasium, gymnasiums    formula, formulas (formulae is used by scientists)

Sometimes there are two plurals with different meanings:
index, indexes (list of contents of books)
           indices (a mathematical term)
appendix, appendixes (a medical term)
                 appendices (used both as a medical term and also for additions to a book)
genius, geniuses (extraordinarily intelligent persons)
            genii (supernatural beings)

H. Compound Nouns
Normally the last word is made plural:
armchair, armchairs    bookcase, bookcases

Where man or woman is prefixed, both parts are made plural:
men students      woman students

Compound nouns formed with prepositions or adverbs make only the first word plural:
sister-in-law, sisters-in-law    looker on, lookers on    

Where the compound noun has an adjective as the last word, the first word is usually made plural;
court martial, courts martial (but court martials is also heard)

Words ending in ful usually make their plural in the ordinary way;
handful, handfuls,    armful, armfuls,  
Initials can be made plural:
VIPs (Very Important Persons)
OAPs (Old Age Pensioners)
MPs (Members of Parliament)
QCs (Queen's Counsel)
UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects)

10. Possessive case form
A. 's is used with singular nouns and plural nouns not ending in s:
a man's job,    a child's voice,    the horse's mouth,    men's work    the children's room,    the bull's horns,    a woman's intuition,    the people's choice,    the butcher's shop,    women's clothes,    the crew's quarters,    Russia's exports

B. A simple apostrophe (') is used with plural nouns ending in s:
a girls' school,    the students' hostel,    the eagles' nest,    the Smiths' car

C. classical names ending in s usually add only apostrophe:
Pythagoras' Theorem,    Archimedes' Law,    Hercules' labours

D. Other names ending in s can take 's or the apostrophe alone:
Mr. Jones's house or Mr. Jones' house
Yeats's poems or Yeats' poems

E. With compounds, the last word takes the 's:
My brother-in-law's guitar
Names consisting of several words are treated similarly:
Henry the Eighth's wives    the prince of wales's helicopter
's can also be used after initials:
the PM's secretary    the VIP's escort    the MP's briefcase
Note that when the possessive case is used, the article before the person or thing 'possessed' disappears:
the daughter of politician = the politician's daughter
the intervention of America = America's intervention
the plays of Shakespeare = Shakespeare's plays

11. Use of the possessive case, and of + noun used for possession
A. The possessive case  is chiefly used of people, countries or animals, as shown above. But it can also be used:

1. Of ships and boats:    the ship's bell    the yacht's mast

2. Of planes, trains, cars and other vehicles, though here the of construction is safer:
a glider's wings or the wings of a glider
the train's heating system or the heating system of the train

3. In time expressions:
a week's holiday    today's paper    tomorrow's weather    ten minutes' break    a three days' walk    a ten hours' delay
(But note that a ten-minute break, a three-day walk, a ten-hour delay would also be possible.)

4. In expressions of money + worth:
$1's worth of stamps    ten dollars' worth of ice-cream

5. With for + noun + sake:
for heaven's sake    for goodness' sake

6. In a few expressions:
a stone's throw    journey's end    the water's edge

7. We can say either a winter's day or a winter day and a summer's day or a summer day, but we cannot make spring or autumn possessive, except when they are personified: Autumn's return.

B. of + noun is used for possession 
1. When the possessor noun is followed by a phrase or clause:
The boys ran about, obeying the directions of a man with a whistle.
Taking the advice of a couple I met on the train, I booked a room at the Red Lion.

2. With inanimate 'possessors', except those listed in A above:
the walls of the town,    the roof of the church,    the keys of the car
However, it is often possible to replace noun 1 + of + noun 2 by noun 2 + noun 1 in that order:
the town walls    the church roof    the car keys
The first noun becomes a sort of adjective and is not made plural:
the roofs of the churches = the church roofs

Unfortunately noun + of + noun combinations cannot always be replaced in this way and the student is advised to use of when in doubt.

12. Noun + noun and noun + gerund combinations

A. examples of these:
noun + noun:
London Transport,    Fleet Street,    Tower Bridge,    hall door,    travel agent,    petrol tank,    hitch hiker,    skyjacker,    river bank,    kitchen table, winter clothes

2. noun + gerund:
fruit picking,    lorry driving,    hitchhiking,    weight lifting,    bird watching,    surf riding, stamp collecting,    coal mining

3. gerund + noun:
waiting list,    diving board,    driving licence,    landing card,    dining room,    swimming pool,    fishing rod

We can also form nouns out of verb + adverb combinations:
fly-over    lay-by    break-in    break-out    hold-up    take-off    look-out

B. Use of noun + noun and noun + gerund combinations
1. They can replace noun + of + noun as shown above:
table leg    college library    hall door    garden gate    attic window

2. The first noun can indicate the place of the second:
city streets (streets in the city)
country lanes    corner shop    kitchen table    wall safe    roof rack    roof garden    Park Lane    Kew Road

3. The first noun can indicate the time of the second:
summer holidays    sunday papers    november fogs

4. The first noun can express the purpose or function of the second:
race-track    tennis court    tennis racquet    bottle-opener    nail-scissors    floodlight tennis club (a club for tennis players)

5. The first noun/gerund can distinguish the second noun/gerund from its other varieties:
love story, murder story, ghost story, fog lamp, parking light, traffic lights, skylight, lorry driver, car driver

6. These combinations are often used to denote occupations, sports, hobbies and the people who practise them:
school-teaching, school-teacher, bookselling, bookseller, surf-riding, surf-rider, stamp-collecting, stamp-collector
These categories all overlap to some extent. They are not meant to be mutually exclusive, but aim to give the student some general idea of the uses of these combinations and help with the stress.

Mr. Gibbs' English © 2013. All Rights Reserved.