How to use Concrete, Abstract, Proper and Common Nouns

Learn about concrete, abstract, proper and common nouns in English grammar. Clear and simple explanation of meaning and use, with examples.

Keith Taylor

What’s a noun again?

Nouns are words which name people, places, things and ideas. If you have a look around you now, everything you see that you can name is a noun.

Are all nouns the same?

In the sense that they name people, places, things and ideas, yes, all nouns are the same, and they perform the same “jobs” in a sentence. But we can classify them into different types. Here are a few nouns to illustrate this:

  • sugar
  • love
  • Elvis Presley

Now, sugar is a thing, love is an idea and Elvis Presley is a person, so we have three nouns here. But let’s see if we can find any differences between them – some ways to classify them.

Concrete and abstract nouns

The first way we can classify nouns is into concrete and abstract nouns. Concrete nouns are those that we can perceive with one of our five senses – we can see, hear, touch, smell or taste them. So, “sugar” and “Elvis Presley” are both concrete nouns. But what about “love”? Well, this is more of an abstract idea – we can’t perceive it with any of our senses, and so we call it an abstract noun.

Proper and common nouns

Another way to classify nouns is into proper and common nouns. Proper nouns are those that name a specific person, place or thing. If I say “Elvis Presley”, for example, I’m talking about a specific person. But if I say another noun, “man”, I’m not talking about a specific person.

So “Elvis Presley” is a proper noun and “man” is what we call a common noun. In the same way, “sugar” and “love” don’t name specific things and so these are also common nouns.

Proper nouns always start with a CAPITAL letter:

  • London
  • President Obama
  • the Colosseum

Common nouns only start with a capital letter if they’re at the beginning of a sentence:

  • Sugar is bad for you.
  • I take sugar in my tea.

So, there we have two ways to classify nouns – all nouns are either concrete or abstract, and either proper or common.

Keith Taylor

Keith is the co-founder of Eslbase and School of TEFL. He's been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years, in Indonesia, Australia, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and now in the UK.

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