What Are Common Nouns And How Do You Use Them?

One of the most common types of words we use in grammar are nouns. A noun is a word that refers to a person, place, thing, or idea. In writing and speaking, we use many different types of nouns to describe the things around us. Take a minute to look around you and you’ll see many different things. If you are inside, maybe you see a computer, a desk, walls, windows, a trash can, or any number of other things. If you are outside, maybe you see a smartphone, people, cars, trees, or animals. All of the words we use to refer to these things have something in common: they are common nouns. 

What is a common noun?

A common noun is a noun that denotes any or all of a class of entities and not an individual. In simpler terms, common nouns act as generic terms for nonspecific objects. For example, we all live on a planet in the solar system. The noun planet is a common noun that refers to a type of object that exists in outer space. The noun Saturn is not a common noun because it refers to a specific planet. As another example, the word artist is a common noun that broadly refers to a person who creates art, and the word Michelangelo is not a common noun because it refers to a specific Italian artist (or pizza-loving turtle).

Of all of the types of nouns, common nouns are the simplest. They are only capitalized when they begin a sentence or are used in a title of something. Otherwise, they are always lowercase.

Common noun examples

Common nouns are pretty easy to understand. Let’s quickly look at a bunch of different types of common nouns to see how we use them to refer to the things around us.

People and animals

Remember, common nouns refer to generic things. The word dog is a common noun but the word Chihuahua is not. Here are some examples of common nouns that refer to people and animals:

 

  • people: woman, child, brother, wife, friend, firefighter, magician, burglar, crook, judge, captain, boss, accountant, hero, author, reader, teacher, actress, queen.
  • animals: dog, cat, horse, bird, bug, spider, fish, monkey, lion, tiger, elephant, alligator

Places

We still use common nouns to refer to generic places. The word country is a common noun but the word Ireland is not. Here are more common nouns that refer to places:

 

  • island, city, beach, backyard, uptown, jungle, nowhere, front, end, kitchen, bedroom, cave

When should we capitalize words? Take the opportunity to review all the rules here.

Things

Common nouns can refer to many different things. We still only use them to refer to generic items and not things with names. For example, the word car is a common noun but the word Toyota is not. Here are just some examples of common nouns that refer to things.

Ideas

Common nouns can also refer to emotions, ideas, concepts, philosophies, and other intangible things that we can’t detect with our five senses. Even in this case, we only use common nouns to refer to generic ideas. For example, the word religion is a common noun but the word Judaism is not. Here are some more examples of common nouns that refer to intangible things:

 

  • government, chaos, friendship, life, death, happiness, sadness, anger, greed, bravery, hunger, sleep, insomnia, depression, loneliness, hate, love, logic, reason, justice, science, crime

List of common nouns

Let’s put everything together and list a wide variety of common nouns. As you read these words, think if you can come up with some more common nouns related to them.

 

  • apple, bank, chef, doubt, entertainment, farm, goal, hotel, investigation, jury, kangaroo, library, mountain, neighbor, orangutan, paint, question, rage, student, toaster, umpire, vampire, waitress, xylophone, year, zoo

The difference between common and proper nouns

You should know by now that common nouns refer to generic things. The type of noun that refers to specific things is called a proper noun. Unlike common nouns, proper nouns are always capitalized no matter where they appear in a sentence. Here are few examples showing how these two types of nouns are used differently in sentences:

 

  • Abraham Lincoln (proper noun) was the president (common noun) of the United States of America (proper noun).
  • The Lion King (proper noun) is my favorite movie (common noun) made by Disney (proper noun).
  • We ate dinner (common noun) with the queen (common noun).
  • We ate dinner (common noun) with Queen Elizabeth II (proper noun).

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It's only proper to review proper nouns now. Take a look here!