Welcome to the second part of my discussion on nouns. If you haven’t already, you should check out What’s In A Noun? Part 1 to learn about the different types of nouns.
Today, we’re going to look at the properties of nouns.
Nouns have two main properties (case and number) and two that some consider relevant (gender and person), while others don’t. I’ll cover all four, and you can make up your own mind.
The property of case indicates the relationship between a noun or pronoun and the other words in a sentence. There are two noun cases: common and genitive. The common case is typically broken down into nominative and objective.
Common Case: nominative
The nominative case refers to the person, place or thing acting as the subject in a sentence or clause. It usually precedes the verb and always governs it.
- The Hellspawn threw a huge tantrum in the grocery store.
Common Case: objective
The objectives case refers to the person or thing acting as an object in a sentence or clause. In this role, the noun will never be the subject of the verb that follows.
- The embarrassed mother put the boxes of Count Chocula back on the shelf.
The genitive case is also called the possessive, and it is used to indicate several different functions. Most commonly, it indicates possession, but it can also indicate a relationship, a description, agency, or the role of a subject or object. It is formed by adding either an ’s or an apostrophe to the end of the word. (See my post on apostrophes for more info on this oft-misused piece of punctuation.)
- Beelzebub’s mother told him to stop playing with his flies and come for dinner. (possessive — his mother)
This is Mr. Mephistopheles, Hell’s representative. (agency — he represents Hell)
- The demon’s application was rejected. He shouldn’t have used a red pen. (role of the subject — the demon applied)
Shockingly, the property of number indicates whether we are referring to one object or more in a sentence. Typically, it is formed by adding an “s” or “es” to the end of a word — though sometimes forming a plural in English can be a little more, um, unique (datum, data; sarcophagus, sarcophagi). But that’s a whole other topic! Here are some simple examples of the number case:
- evil, evils
- flame, flames
- crash, crashes
- hex, hexes
While English does not really have gender, in the way that some other languages do (French and German, for example), some English nouns are used almost exclusively to indicate the masculine or feminine and would accompany a gender-appropriate pronoun. Here are some examples:
- Masculine: uncle, brother, rooster, bull, lad
- Feminine: aunt, sister, hen, cow, lass
The property of person refers to what person the noun refers to. Is it first person, second person or third person? Here are some examples:
- First person: I, the Lord of Darkness, don’t want to go to bed!
- Second person: You, little devil, would be wise to get upstairs right now.
- Third person: She, mother of demons, just wanted ten minutes of quiet.
And there you have it, the properties of nouns in a large nutshell.
As an aside, I want to note that there are a few other roles that nouns can play. I have already discussed appositives in a previous post. Nouns can also sometimes act as adjectives, verbs and occasionally as adverbs — this is known as functional variation.