linguist • writer • editor • lecturer • broadcaster
[Thursday 03 January, 2013]
These are the two main kinds of noun. The proper nouns are easy to spot, because they’re written with a capital letter at the beginning. They’re also called proper names, because they name particular people, places, days, months, festivals, magazines, comics, films, and so on. Here is a short collection, taken from the newspaper I was reading this morning:
London
The Independent
October
Syria
David Cameron
Barack Obama
Common nouns are all the others. Most of the nouns in this entry are common nouns. Look at my third sentence, for instance - the one beginning ‘They’re also called’. That’s got a good collection of common nouns in it.
What’s the main difference between a proper noun and a common noun? A proper noun refers to something that’s the only one of its kind. There’s just one city of London, one country called Syria, one month called October, one Barack Obama. And as a result, we don’t usually put these nouns into the plural and say Syrias, Londons, Octobers, or Barack Obamas. Common nouns are called ‘common’ because the nouns refer to common things and ideas which turn up everywhere. Table, cat, dancer, and mud are all common nouns. Each of these nouns stands for a vast number of things. Any cat which could exist is referred to by the noun cat. But Twiddles is a particular cat, living at Number 33 - so Twiddles is a proper noun.

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