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What is a Common Noun?

Oscar

A simple definition of a noun is that it’s an object or concept; a thing.

We can group nouns in various ways. One major group are Common Nouns.

Simply put, a Common Noun is a noun which is used to talk about an object or concept. Here are a few examples:

objects table, hill, water, atom, elephant
events lesson, revolution
feelings fear, hate, love
time year, minute, millennium
concepts warfare, brotherhood, causation

Common Nouns Vs Proper Nouns

Common Nouns are often contrasted with Proper Nouns. A proper noun is the actual name of something whereas the common noun is the general term.

prize is a common noun; Oscar is a proper noun

actress is a common noun; Penelope Cruz is a proper noun

Here are a few more examples which will help explain this difference:

Common Noun Proper Noun
girl Suzanna
country Japan
car Aston Martin
teacher Mr Chips
whisky Lagavulin
politician Barack Obama

As you can see, common nouns are lower case (unless they’re the first word of a sentence) while proper nouns are capitalized.

Common Nouns & TEFL

Is it worth teaching the difference between common nouns and proper nouns to your TEFL class?

Do your students need to know that vegetable is a common noun but Arkansas is not?

The truth is that you can go through your entire life without knowing what a common noun is. You don’t need to know it about them to speak English perfectly well and being able to identify them won’t make much difference in the long run. So unless the issue comes up in class or you happen to find a very special reason to tell your class about them, we suggest keeping the knowledge to yourself and avoiding any unnecessary confusion.

Useful Links

Nouns in English Grammar – a good, general look at nouns

What is a Proper Noun?‎ – all about proper nouns – names in other words

The image shows a common noun, actress, with a proper noun, Oscar.

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