The discovery of nouns
2. Classification of nouns inEnglish
3. Nouns and pronounsPart 2Semantic vs. grammaticalnumber
1. Number in specific languages
2. Obligatoriness of numbermarking
3. Number agreement
4. Types of number
5. ConclusionPart 3
The discovery of nouns
The word «noun» comes from thelatin nomen meaning «name.» Word classes like nouns were firstdescribed by Sanskrit grammarian Pāṇiniand ancient Greeks like Dionysios Thrax, and defined in terms of their morphologicalproperties. For example, in Ancient Greek, nouns can be inflected for grammaticalcase, such as dative or accusative. Verbs, on the other hand, can be inflectedfor tenses, such as past, present or future, while nouns cannot. Aristotle alsohad a notion of onomata (nouns) and rhemata (verbs) which, however, does notexactly correspond our notions of verbs and nouns. In her dissertation,Vinokurova has a more detailed discussion of the historical origin of thenotion of a noun.Differentdefinitions of nounsExpressions ofnatural language will have properties at different levels. They have formalproperties, like what kinds of morphological prefixes or suffixes they cantake, and what kinds of other expressions they can combine with. but they alsohave semantic properties, i.e. properties pertaining to their meaning. Thedefinition of nouns on the top of this page is thus a formal definition. Thatdefinition is uncontroversial, and has the advantage that it allows us toeffectively distinguish nouns from non-nouns. However, it has the disadvandagethat it does not apply to nouns in all languages. For example in Russian, thereare no definite articles, so one cannot define nouns by means of those. Thereare also several attempts of defining nouns in terms of their semanticproperties. Many of these are controversial, but some are discussed below.Names for things
In traditional school grammars, oneoften encounters the definition of nouns that they are all and only thoseexpressions that refer to a person, place, thing, event, substance, quality, oridea, etc. This is a semantic definition. It has been criticized bycontemporary linguists as being quite uninformative. Part of the problem isthat the definition makes use of relatively general nouns («thing,» «phenomenon,»«event») to define what nouns are. The existence of such generalnouns shows us that nouns are organized in taxonomic hierarchies. But otherkinds of expressions are also organized in hierarchies. For example all of theverbs «stroll,» «saunter,» «stride,» and«tread» are more specific words than the more general«walk.» The latter is more specific than the verb «move.»But it is unlikely that such hierarchies can be used to define nouns and verbs.Furthermore, an influential theory has it that verbs like «kill» or«die» refer to events, and so they fall under the definition.Similarly, adjectives like «yellow» or «difficult» might bethought to refer to qualities, and adverbs like «outside» or«upstairs» seem to refer to places. Worse still, a trip into thewoods can be referred to by the verbs «stroll» or «walk.»But verbs, adjectives and adverbs are not nouns, and nouns aren't verbs. So thedefinition is not particularly helpful in distinguishing nouns from other partsof speech.Prototypicallyreferential expressions
Another semantic definition of nouns isthat they are prototypically referential. That definition is also not veryhelpful in distinguishing actual nouns from verbs. But it may still correctlyidentify a core property of nounhood. For example, we will tend to use nounslike «fool» and «car» when we wish to refer to fools andcars, respectively. The notion that this is prototypocal reflects the fact thatsuch nouns can be used, even though nothing with the corresponding property isreferred to:
John is no fool.
If I had a car, I'd go to Marakech.
The first sentence above doesn't referto any fools, nor does the second one refer to any particular car.Predicates withidentity criteria
The British logician Peter Thomas Geachproposed a very subtle semantic definition of nouns. He noticed that adjectiveslike «same» can modify nouns, but no other kinds of parts of speech,like verbs or adjectives. Not only that, but there also doesn't seem to existany other expressions with similar meaning that can modify verbs andadjectives. Consider the following examples.
Good: John and Bill participated in the same fight.
Bad: *John and Bill samely fought.
There is no English adverb«samely.» In some other languages, like Czech, however there areadverbs corresponding to «samely.» Hence, in Czech, the translationof the last sentence would be fine; however, it would mean that John and Billfought in the same way: not that they participated in the same fight.Geach proposed that we could explain this, if nouns denote logical predicatewith identity criteria. An identity criterion would allow us toconclude, for example, that «person x at time 1 is the same personas person y at time 2.» Different nouns can have different identitycriteria. A well known example of this is due to Gupta:
National Airlines transported 2 million passengers in 1979.
National Airlines transported (at least) 2 million persons in1979.
Given that, in general, all passengersare persons, the last sentence above ought to follow logically from the firstone. But it doesn't. It is easy to imagine, for example, that on average, everyperson who travelled with National Airlines in 1979, travelled with them twice.In that case, one would say that the airline transported 2 million passengersbut only 1 million persons. Thus, the way that we count passengersisn't necessarily the same as the way that we count persons. Putsomewhat differently: At two different times, you may correspond to twodistinct passengers, even though you are one and the same person. For aprecise definition of identity criteria, see Gupta.
Recently, the linguist Mark Baker hasproposed that Geach's definition of nouns in terms of identity criteria allowsus to explain the characteristic properties of nouns. He argues thatnouns can co-occur with (in-)definite articles and numerals, and are«prototypically referential» because they are all and onlythose parts of speech that provide identity criteria. Baker's proposals arequite new, and linguists are still evaluating them.Classification of nouns in EnglishProper nouns and common nouns
Proper nouns (also called proper names)are the names of unique entities. For example, «Janet»,«Jupiter» and «Germany» are proper nouns. Proper nouns areusually capitalized in English and most other languages that use the Latinalphabet, and this is one easy way to recognise them. However, in German nounsof all types are capitalized. The convention of capitalizing all nouns waspreviously used in English, but has long fallen into disuse.
All other nouns are called common nouns.For example, «girl», «planet», and «country» arecommon nouns.
Sometimes the same word can function asboth a common noun and a proper noun, where one such entity is special. Forexample: «There can be many gods, but there is only one God.» This issomewhat magnified in Hebrew where EL means god (as in a god), God (as in theGod), and El (the name of a particular Canaanite god).
The common meaning of the word or wordsconstituting a proper noun may be unrelated to the object to which the propernoun refers. For example, someone might be named «Tiger Smith»despite being neither a tiger nor a smith. For this reason, proper nouns areusually not translated between languages, although they may be transliterated.For example, the German surname Knödel becomes Knodel or Knoedel inEnglish (not the literal Dumpling). However, the translation of placenames andthe names of monarchs, popes, and non-contemporary authors is common andsometimes universal. For instance, the Portuguese word Lisboa becomes Lisbon inEnglish; the English London becomes Londres in French; and the GreekAristotelēs becomes Aristotle in English.
Count nouns and mass nouns
Count nouns(or countable nouns) are common nouns that can take a plural, cancombine with numerals or quantifiers (e.g. «one», «two»,«several», «every», «most»), and can take anindefinite article («a» or «an»). Examples of count nounsare «chair», «nose», and «occasion».
Mass nouns(or non-countable nouns) differ from count nouns in precisely thatrespect: they can't take plural or combine with number words or quantifiers.Examples from English include «laughter», «cutlery»,«helium», and «furniture». For example, it is not possibleto refer to «a furniture» or «three furnitures». This istrue, even though the furniture referred to could, in principle, be counted.Thus the distinction between mass and count nouns shouldn't be made in terms ofwhat sorts of things the nouns refer to, but rather in terms of how thenouns present these entities. The separate page for mass noun containsfurther explanation of this point.
Some words function in the singular as acount noun and, without a change in the spelling, as a mass noun in the plural:she caught a fish, we caught fish; he shot a deer, theyshot some deer; the craft was dilapidated, the pier was chockablock with craft.Collective Nouns
Collective nouns are nouns that refer togroups consisting of more than one individual or entity, even when they areinflected for the singular. Examples include «committee,»«herd» and «school» (of herring). These nouns have slightlydifferent grammatical properties than other nouns. For example, the nounphrases that they head can serve of the subject of a collective predicate, evenwhen they are inflected for the singular. A collective predicate is a predicatethat normally can't take a singular subject. An example of the latter is«surround the house.»
Good: The boys surrounded the house.
Bad: *The boy surrounded the house.
Good: The committee surrounded thehouse.Concrete nouns and abstract nouns
Concrete nouns refer to definiteobjects—objects in which you use at least one of your senses. For instance,«chair», «apple», or «Janet». Abstract nouns onthe other hand refer to ideas or concepts, such as «justice» or«hate». While this distinction is sometimes useful, the boundarybetween the two of them is not always clear. In English, many abstract nounsare formed by adding noun-forming suffixes ("-ness","-ity", "-tion") to adjectives or verbs. Examples are«happiness», «circulation» and «serenity».Nouns and pronouns
Noun phrases can be replaced by pronouns,such as «he», «it», «which», and«those», in order to avoid repetition or explicit identification, orfor other reasons. For example, in the sentence «Janet thought that he wasweird», the word «he» is a pronoun standing in place of the nameof the person in question. The English word one can replace parts of nounphrases, and it sometimes stands in for a noun. An example is given below:
John's car is newer than the one thatBill has.
But one can also stand in for biggersubparts of a noun phrase. For example, in the following example, one can standin for new car.
This new car is cheaper than that one.
CHAIR PAPER BOOK CAKE DRINK CANDY CAKEFUDGE SISSORS KEY BOARD SPEAKERS CAR BIKE PENCIL PEN
In linguistics, grammatical number is amorphological category characterized by the expression of quantity throughinflection or agreement. As an example, consider the English sentences below:
That apple on the table is fresh.
Those two apples on the table are fresh.
The number of apples is marked on thenoun — «apple», singular number (one item) vs. «apples»,plural number (more than one item) —, on the demonstrative,«that/those», and on the verb, «is/are». Note that,especially in the second sentence, this information can be considered redundant,since quantity is already indicated by the numeral «two».
A language has grammatical number whenits nouns are subdivided into morphological classes according to the quantitythey express, such that:
Every noun belongs to a single numberclass. (Number partitions nouns into disjoint classes.)
Noun modifiers (such as adjectives) and verbshave different forms for each number class, and must be inflected to match thenumber of the nouns they refer to. (Number is an agreement category.)
This is the case in English: every nounis either singular or plural (a few, such as «fish», can be either,according to context), and at least some modifiers of nouns — namely the demonstratives,the personal pronouns, the articles, and verbs — are inflected to agree withthe number of the nouns they refer to: «this car» and «thesecars» are correct, while "*this cars" or "*these car"are ungrammatical.
Not all languages have number as agrammatical category. In those that do not, quantity must be expressed eitherdirectly, with numerals, or indirectly, through optional quantifiers. However,many of these languages compensate for the lack of grammatical number with anextensive system of measure words.
The word «number» is also usedin linguistics to describe the distinction between certain grammatical aspectsthat indicate the number of times an event occurs, such as the semelfactiveaspect, the iterative aspect, etc. For that use of the term, see «Grammaticalaspect».
Semantic vs. grammatical number
All languages are able to specify thequantity of referents. They may do so by lexical means with words such asEnglish a few, some, one, two, five hundred.However, not every language has a grammatical category of number. Grammaticalnumber is expressed by morphological and/or syntactic means. That is, it isindicated by certain grammatical elements, such as through affixes or numberwords. Grammatical number may be thought of as the indication of semanticnumber through grammar.
Languages that express quantity only bylexical means lack a grammatical category of number. For instance, in Khmer,neither nouns nor verbs carry any grammatical information concerning number:such information can only be conveyed by lexical items such as khlah'some', pii-bey 'a few', and so on.
Most languages of the world have formalmeans to express differences of number. The most widespread distinction, asfound in English and many other languages, involves a simple two-way numbercontrast between singular and plural (car / cars; child / children,etc.). Other more elaborate systems of number are described below.Number in specific languagesEnglish
English is typical of most worldlanguages, in distinguishing only between singular and plural number. Theplural form of a word is usually created by adding the suffix -(e)s.Common exceptions include the pronouns, which have irregular plurals, as in Iversus we, because they are ancient and frequently used words.French
In its written form, French declinesnouns for number (singular or plural). In speech, however, the majority ofnouns (and adjectives) are not actually declined for number. This is becausethe typical plural suffix -s, is silent, and thus does not reallyindicate a change in pronunciation; the plural article or determiner is thereal indicator of plurality (but see Liaison (French) for a commonexception). However, plural number still exists in spoken French because asignificant percentage of irregular plurals differ from the singular inpronunciation; for example, cheval «horse» is pronounced [ʃəval],while chevaux «horses» is pronounced [ʃəvo].Hebrew
In Hebrew, most nouns have only singularand plural forms, such as sefer/sfarim «book/books», but somehave singular, plural, and dual forms, such as yom/yomaim/yamim«day/two days/[two or more] days». Some words occur so often in pairsthat what used to be the dual form is now the general plural, such as ayin/eynayim«eye/eyes», used even in a sentence like, «The spider has eighteyes.» Adjectives, verbs, and pronouns have only singular and plural, withthe plural forms of these being used with dual nouns.Obligatoriness of number marking
In many languages, such as English,number is obligatorily expressed in every grammatical context; in otherlanguages, however, number expression is limited to certain classes of nouns,such as animates or referentially prominent nouns (as with proximate forms inmost Algonquian languages, opposed to referentially less prominent obviativeforms).
A very common situation is for pluralnumber to not be marked if there is any other overt indication of number, asfor example in Hungarian: virág «flower»; virágok«flowers»; hat virág «six flowers».Number agreementVerb conjugation
In many languages, verbs are conjugatedfor number. Using French as an example, one says je vois (I see), but nousvoyons (we see). The verb voir (to see) changes from vois in the first personsingular to voyons in the plural. In everyday English, this often happens inthe third person (she sees, they see), but not in other grammatical persons,except with the verb to be.Agreement in other lexical items
Adjectives often agree with the numberof the noun they modify. For example, in French, one says un grand arbre[œ̃ gʀɑ̃t aʀbʀ]«a tall tree», but deux grands arbres [dø gʀɑ̃zaʀbʀ]«two tall trees». The singular adjective grand becomes grands in theplural, unlike English «tall», which remains unchanged.
Other determiners may agree with number.In English, the demonstratives «this», «that» change to«these», «those» in the plural, and the indefinite article«a», «an» is either omitted or changes to «some».In French and German, the definite articles have gender distinctions in thesingular but not the plural. In Spanish and Portuguese, both definite andindefinite articles are inflected for gender and number, e.g. Portuguese o, a«the» (singular, masc./fem.), os, as «the» (plural,masc./fem.); um, uma «a(n)» (singular, masc./fem.), uns, umas«some» (plural, masc./fem.)
In the Finnish sentence Yöt ovatpimeitä «Nights are dark», each word referring to the pluralnoun yöt «nights» («night» = yö) is pluralized(night-PL is-PL dark-PL-partitive).Exceptions
Sometimes, grammatical number will notrepresent the actual quantity. For example, in Ancient Greek neuter pluralstook a singular verb. The plural form of a pronoun may also be applied to asingle individual as a sign of importance, respect or generality, as in the pluralismajestatis, the T-V distinction, and the generic «you», found inmany languages, or, in English, when using the singular «they» forgender-neutrality.Collective nouns
A collective noun is a word thatdesignates a group of objects or beings regarded as a whole, such as«flock», «team», or «corporation». Although manylanguages treat collective nouns as singular, in others they may be interpretedas plural. In British English, phrases such as the committee are meetingare common (the so-called agreement in sensu «in meaning»,that is, with the meaning of a noun, rather than with its form). The use ofthis type of construction varies with dialect and level of formality.Types of numberSingular versus plural
In most languages with grammaticalnumber, nouns, and sometimes other parts of speech, have two forms, thesingular, for one instance of a concept, and the plural, for more than oneinstance. Usually, the singular is the unmarked form of a word, and the pluralis obtained by inflecting the singular. This is the case in English: car/cars,box/boxes, man/men. There may be exceptional nouns whose plural is identical tothe singular: one fish / two fish.Collective versus singulative
Some languages differentiate between abasic form, the collective, which is indifferent in respect to number, and amore complicated derived form for single entities, the singulative, for exampleJapanese and some Brythonic languages. A rough example in English is«snowflake», which may be considered a singulative form of«snow» (although English has no productive process of formingsingulative nouns, and no singulative modifiers). In other languages,singulatives can be productively formed from collective nouns; e.g. StandardArabic حجر ḥajar «stone» →حجرة ḥajarā"(individual) stone", بقر baqar «cattle» →بقرة baqarā "(single) cow"Dual number
The distinction between a«singular» number (one) and a «plural» number (more thanone) found in English is not the only possible classification. Another one is«singular» (one), «dual» (two) and «plural» (morethan two). Dual number existed in Proto-Indo-European, persisted in many of thenow extinct ancient Indo-European languages that descended from it—Sanskrit, AncientGreek and Gothic for example—and can still be found in a few modernIndo-European languages such as Icelandic and Slovene language. Many moremodern Indo-European languages show residual traces of the dual, as in the Englishdistinctions both versus all and better versus best.
Many Semitic languages also have dualnumber.Trial number
The trial number is a grammatical numberreferring to 'three items', in contrast to 'singular' (one item), 'dual' (twoitems), and 'plural' (four or more items). Tolomako, Lihir and Tok Pisin(though only in its pronouns) have trial number.
There is a hierarchy between numbercategories: No language distinguishes a trial unless having a dual, and nolanguage has dual without a plural (Greenberg 1972).
Some languages, such as Latvian, have anullar form, used for nouns that refer to zero items. Other languages useeither the singular or the plural form for zero. English, along with the other Germaniclanguages and most Romance languages, uses the plural. French normally uses thesingular, instead.Distributive plural
Distributive plural number, for manyinstances viewed as independent individuals (e.g. in Navajo).
In most languages, the singular isformally unmarked, whereas the plural is marked in some way. Other languages,most notably the Bantu languages, mark both the singular and the plural, forinstance Swahili (see example above). The third logical possibility, rarelyfound in languages, is unmarked plural contrasting with marked singular.
Elements marking number may appear onnouns and pronouns in dependent-marking languages or on verbs and adjectives inhead-marking languages.
Paul is teaching the cowboys.
Paul idilohí yiłch’ídagó’aah.
In the English sentence above, theplural suffix -s is added to the noun cowboy. In the WesternApache, a head-marking language, equivalent, a plural prefix da- isadded to the verb yiłch’ígó’aah «he is teachinghim», resulting in yiłch’ídagó’aah «he isteaching them» while noun idilohí «cowboy» isunmarked for number.Number particles
Plurality is sometimes marked by aspecialized number particle (or number word). This is frequent in Australianand Austronesian languages. An example from Tagalog is the word mga:compare bahay «house» with mga bahay«houses». In Kapampangan, certain nouns optionally denote pluralityby secondary stress: ing laláki «man» and ing babái«woman» become ding láláki «men» and dingbábái «women».
ConclusionWe haveinvestigated the noun, the main part of speech in English grammar. We chose thenoun as the theme of our course work because we interested in it. We used differentkind of references to investigate the noun. Nouns can be classified further ascount nouns, which name anything that can be counted (four books, twocontinents, a few dishes, a dozen buildings); mass nouns (or non-count nouns),which name something that can't be counted (water, air, energy, blood); andcollective nouns, which can take a singular form but are composed of more thanone individual person or items (jury, team, class, committee, herd). We shouldnote that some words can be either a count noun or a non-count noun dependingon how they're being used in a sentence. Whether or not a noun is uncountableis determined by its meaning: an uncountable noun represents something whichtends to be viewed as a whole or as a single entity, rather than as one of anumber of items which can be counted as individual units. Singular verb formsare used with uncountable nouns. Uncountable nouns are substances, concepts etcthat we cannot divide into separate elements. We cannot «count» them.For example, we cannot count «milk». We can count «bottles ofmilk» or «litres of milk», but we cannot count «milk»itself. We usually treat uncountable nouns as singular. We use asingular verb. Countable nouns are easy to recognize. They are things that wecan count. For example: «pen». We can count pens. We can have one,two, three or more pens. We cannot say that it is finished investigation of thistheme, because we are going to continue its investigation in our diploma work.
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