Series index: English Parts of Speech Overview
We’ve all heard this before: a noun is a person, place or thing. GrammarStation.com’s Know Your Nouns page gives grammatical information about (almost) any noun.
Nouns have three cases: nominative (or subjective), objective, and possessive. For nouns, the nominative and objective cases look the same; grammarians just use them to distinguish a sentence’s subject from its object. (See Basic Sentence Elements.)
For everything you ever wanted to know about the possessive case, see The American Heritage Book of English Usage - Forming Possesives.
Gender and Number
Most nouns in English don’t have a gender, but some nouns do have male and female counterparts. LousyWriter.com’s article on Inflections of Nouns - Gender has some interesting information about the origins of masculine and feminine words.
Number is simple enough; English nouns are either singular or plural. See The American Heritage Book of English Usage - Guide to Forming Plurals.
Types of Nouns
- Count and Noncount Nouns - tables as opposed to furniture.
- Pluralia tantum - scissors, pants, and glasses (not to be confused with the noncount noun glass). These are often used with collective nouns: a pair of scissors, a pair of pants, etc.
- Compound Nouns - business class, foot rest, blackboard, etc.
- Gerunds - Swimming is fun. See The American Heritage Book of English Usage - Gerunds for more on using gerunds with possesives.
- Infinitives - I like to swim. See Gerunds and Infinitives: Their Noun Roles for more on using gerunds and infinitives as sentence elements. Also be sure to check out this interesting essay on the subtle differences in meaning between gerunds and infinitives: Stop to Smell the Roses But Don't Stop Smelling the Roses.
- Words and Word Groups Used As Nouns - With a little poetic license, you can use any word as a noun -- even whole clauses can function as nouns within a sentence (That you could say such a thing bewilders me).
Pronouns are noun-substitutes used to avoid repetition.
When you think of pronouns, you probably think of personal pronouns: I, you, me, him, etc. Unlike nouns, pronouns in the nominative case look different from those in the objective case. Person, gender, and number are straightforward – see English Personal Pronouns on Wikipedia for a table. Note: the table includes possessive determiners (my, your, her, etc.) even though they aren’t technically pronouns.
- Demonstrative Pronouns (or independent demonstratives) - this, that, these, and those. Wikipedia explains the difference between demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative adjectives.
- Relative Pronouns - who, whom, whose, which, that, and sometimes what. These introduce relative clauses. The use of the words which and that often causes confusion (and many arguments); see the links at the bottom of "How to Avoid Common Pronoun Errors" below.
- Interrogative Pronouns - what, which, who, whom, and whose.
- Reflexive Pronouns - myself, herself, itself, yourselves, etc. Note: when used for emphasis, these are called intensive pronouns.
- Reciprocal Pronouns - each other and one another.
- Indefinite Pronouns - anyone, everyone, nothing, nobody, somebody, etc.
How to Avoid Common Pronoun Errors
- Using Pronouns Clearly - a few tips on agreement and clarity.
- Pronoun Reference - more tips on agreement and clarity.
- The American Heritage Book of English Usage - Personal Pronouns - a detailed look at case agreement.
- I/me/myself - a short word on these commonly misused pronouns.
- they/their (singular) - a word on using plural pronouns to refer to indefinite pronouns like everybody. Also see this site devoted to the subject: Singular "Their" in Jane Austen and Elsewhere: Anti-pedantry Page.
- Which Versus That - when to use these tricky relative pronouns.
- The American Heritage Book of English Usage has informative entries on: this, that, who, which, and what.
- Quiz on Which, That, and Who
- Quiz on Forms of Who
- A Second Quiz on Forms of Who.
- Quiz on Pronoun Usage - personal pronoun agreement.
- A Second Quiz on Pronoun Forms - includes possessive determiners.
- Interactive Pronoun Quiz #1 - identify the type of pronoun.
- Interactive Pronoun Quiz #2 - identify the type of pronoun.
- Review: Pronoun Reference - includes possessive determiners.