(2) How can you know if a word is a noun?
Here are a few ways to test a word to see if it is a noun.
- First, you can look it up in the dictionary. Most dictionaries mark
nouns with the abbreviations n or sub. N means noun. Sub means substantive -- the Latin-based
word for noun. Remember you also need to check the definition -- many words
have multiple entries and can belong to more than one category, often with quite different
meanings. Dictionaries are not perfect resources, however. A
dictionary may not contain a new word or a slang word or a word (or use of a
word) specific to a particular dialect. Dictionaries tend not to
contain all proper names.
- Second, you can look at the ending of the word. This can help
sometimes. Here are some examples of noun endings: -ion (decision, revision, mission); -ity (parity,felicity);
and -ism (Catholicism, Judaism, revisionism).
- Third, you can try the arithmetic test. Again, this can work sometimes.
Can you multiply it or divide it into smaller parts? If so, it is probably a
noun. For example, think about the word computer. Can you imagine one computer? How
about 100? If you can, it's probably a noun. (But watch out, you can do this with
pronouns often too. Pronouns can be learned as a not-very-long list, unlike nouns.
There are enormous numbers of nouns and native speakers of English make up new ones
all the time!) Now think about the word water. Imagine a huge amount of
water. Can you imagine multiplying (increasing it)? Can you imagine dividing it into
smaller amounts, perhaps into lots of glasses of water? Water is probably a noun.
This is probably the riskiest test, since English speakers also quantify
adjectives and adverbs, for example, silly in He's a little bit silly is
quantified as small amount as opposed to He's enormously silly, in which his
silliness is a much larger amount.
- Fourth, if you can modify the word with the indefinite article a
or with a demonstrative like this, these, that or those or
with every or some, then the word must be a noun.
Because the last three tests only work sometimes, it is often best to check your dictionary to
check what category the word belongs to, if you have any doubt. However, since
dictionaries can not be completely inclusive and up-to-date, you want to be
prepared to consider check the possible uses of the word you are thinking about
in context with native speakers of the dialect you want to speak or
right. Remember that it is in general not useful to ask speakers whether
the word you are curious about is a noun or not. Instead use the word in a
couple of sentences and ask speakers if a sentence "sounds good" or
"makes sense". Make sure that the speaker knows that you are not
looking for reassurance, but information -- you want to know the way to say what
you need so it sounds like English to a speaker of English.