A noun is a word used as the name of anything that can be thought of,
John, boy, paper, cold, fear, crowd. There are three things
about a noun which indicate its relation to other words, its number, its
gender, and its case. There are two numbers, singular meaning one, and plural meaning more than one.
The plural is generally formed by adding s to the singular. There are
a small number of nouns which form their plurals differently, mouse,
mice; child, children; foot, feet. These must be learned
individually from a dictionary or spelling book. There are some nouns
which undergo changes in the final syllable when the s is added,
torch, torches; staff, staves; fly, flies. These also must
be learned individually. There are some nouns which have no singular,
such as cattle, clothes, some which have no plural, such as
physics, honesty, news, and some which are the same in both
singular and plural, such as deer, trout, series. Care must be
taken in the use of these nouns, as in some cases their appearance is
misleading, e. g., mathematics, physics, and the like are singular
nouns having no plural, but owing to their form they are often mistaken for plurals.
Compound nouns, that is to say, nouns formed by the combination of two
or three words which jointly express a single idea, generally change the
principal word in the forming of the plural, hangers-on, ink
rollers, but in a few cases both words change, for example,
men-servants. These forms must be learned by observation and practice.
It is very important, however, that they be thoroughly learned and
correctly<a name="Page_3">[Pg 3] used. Do not make such mistakes as brother-in-laws,
Perhaps the most important use of number is in the relation between the
noun and the verb. The verb as well as the noun has number forms and the
number of the noun used as subject should always agree with that of the
verb with which it is connected. Such expressions as "pigs is pigs,"
"how be you?" and the like, are among the most marked evidences of
ignorance to be found in common speech. When this paragraph was
originally written a group of high school boys were playing football
under the writer's window. Scraps of their talk forced themselves upon
his attention. Almost invariably such expressions as "you was," "they
was," "he don't," "it aint," and the like took the place of the
corresponding correct forms of speech.
Collective nouns, that is the nouns which indicate a considerable number
of units considered as a whole, such as herd, crowd, congress,
present some difficulties because the idea of the individuals in the
collection interferes with the idea of the collection itself. The
collective nouns call for the singular form of the verb except where the
thought applies to the individual parts of the collection rather than to
the collection as a whole, for instance, we say,
but we say,
because in one case we are thinking of the crowd and in the other of
the persons who compose the crowd. So in speaking of a committee, we may
The Committee thinks that a certain thing should be done.
The Committee think that a certain thing should be done.
The first phrase would indicate that the committee had considered and
acted on the subject and the statement represented a formal decision.
The second phrase would indicate the individual opinions of the members
of the<a name="Page_4">[Pg 4] committee which might be in agreement but had not been expressed
in formal action. In doubtful cases it is safer to use the plural.
Entire accuracy in these cases is not altogether easy. As in the case
with all the nice points of usage it requires practice and continual
self-observation. By these means a sort of language sense is developed
which makes the use of the right word instinctive. It is somewhat
analogous to that sense which will enable an experienced bank teller to
throw out a counterfeit bill instinctively when running over a large
pile of currency even though he may be at some pains to prove its
badness when challenged to show the reason for its rejection.
The young student should not permit himself to be discouraged by the
apparent difficulty of the task of forming the habit of correct speech.
It is habit and rapidly becomes easier after the first efforts.
The relation of a noun to a verb, to another noun, or to a preposition
is called its case. There are three cases called the nominative,
objective, and possessive. When the noun does something it is in the
nominative case and is called the subject of the verb.
When the noun has something done to it it is in the objective case and is called the object of the verb.
When a noun depends on a preposition, it is also in the objective case and is called the object of the preposition.
The paper is cut by machinery.
The preposition on which a noun depends is often omitted when not needed for clearness.
The foreman gave (to) the men a holiday.
He came (on) Sunday.
Near (to) the press.
He was ten minutes late (late by ten minutes).
He is 18 years old (old by or to the extent of 18 years).
The nominative and objective cases of nouns do not differ<a name="Page_5">[Pg 5] in form. They
are distinguished by their positions in the sentence and their relations to other words.
When one noun owns another the one owning is in the possessive case.
The possessive case is shown by the form of the noun. It is formed by adding s preceded by an apostrophe to the nominative case, thus,
There is a considerable difference of usage regarding the formation of
the possessives of nouns ending in s in the singular. The general rule
is to proceed as in other nouns by adding the apostrophe and the other
s as James's hat. DeVinne advises following the pronunciation. Where
the second s is not pronounced, as often happens to avoid the
prolonged hissing sound of another s, he recommends omitting it in print.
Moses' hat, for Moses's hat.
For conscience' sake.
Plural nouns ending in s add the apostrophe only; ending in other
letters they add the apostrophe and s like singular nouns, the Jones' house, the children's toys.
The possessive pronouns never take the apostrophe. We say hers, theirs, its. It's is an abbreviation for it is.
Care should be taken in forming the possessives of phrases containing
nouns in apposition, or similar compound phrases. We should say "I
called at Brown the printer's" or "since William the Conqueror's time."