"Abstract and Concrete" Nouns in English Grammar

Abstract and Concrete Nouns

Based on what we can or cannot perceive with our five senses, we can categorize nouns into two groups: abstract and common nouns. Start learning!

"Abstract and Concrete" Nouns in English Grammar

What Are Concrete and Abstract Nouns?

Concrete nouns refer to a physical object, easy to touch in the real world, but abstract nouns refer to an idea or concept that cannot be touched in the real world. For example, an ice cream, a pen, a car are all 'concrete nouns' while love, hate, and anger are 'abstract nouns.'

Concrete Nouns

A concrete noun is a noun that we can perceive through our five senses. We can smell it, taste it, hear it, touch it or see it. Let's see some examples:

We trimmed the trees.

I heard his voice but I did not pay attention.

How to Recognize the Concrete Nouns in a Sentence

Whenever you face a noun in a sentence you can ask yourself whether you can touch, see, hear, taste, or smell that particular noun. If the answer to the question was 'yes' then you can be sure that the word is a concrete noun.

I ate the pasta in an expensive restaurant.

In this sentence you can taste the 'pasta' and see the 'restaurant' so, they are both concrete nouns.

I listened to the music you told me to listen.

In this sentence, you can hear the sound of the music, as a result, music is a concrete noun.

His religion is Jainism, I guess.

In this sentence 'religion' and 'Jainism' are both abstract nouns because you cannot feel them by your five senses.

Here are the concrete nouns on the list based on which sense they are felt with.

  • Things we can see: a flower, a book, the sun, our house
  • Things we can touch: a hand, a fork, a car
  • Things we can hear: a voice, a honk, a siren, a note (like D flat)
  • Things we can smell: perfume, odor, gas
  • Things we can taste: food, bread, sugar, honey

Common and Proper Concrete Nouns

Based on whether a concrete noun is referring to a generic or specified concept, they can be proper or common. However, concrete nouns are most likely common nouns, but in some cases, they can be proper as well.

If you can sense a noun by your five senses and it is referring to a specific concept then you have to write it with a capital letter in the beginning and it is called a proper concrete noun, however, if it is referring to a generic concept then it is considered a common concrete noun and it is not capitalized in the beginning. Check out these examples:

Jake is a kind boy.

In this example 'Jake' refers to the name of a man, so, it is referring to a concept that can be touched easily. As a result, it is a proper concrete noun, however, the term 'boy' is considered a common concrete noun because it has a generic meaning.

La Grillo Parlante is a useful Italian book to learn the grammar.

In this example, La Grillo Parlante → proper concrete noun; book → common concrete noun

Deciding Whether a Noun Is Concrete or Not

There are some words that can be experienced through our five senses in some contexts and in other contexts they may have a non-concrete concept. Here are the examples:

His works are amazing, mostly the classic ones. → concrete noun

Here in this example, the speaker is referring to a piece of art which can be seen.

Finishing this project requires some hard works. → not a concrete noun

In this example, the speaker is actually referring to the effort which is a need to finish the project.

Some words have more than one definition in English. So, there is a possibility for these words to have a concrete meaning with one definition and a non-concrete meaning with another definition. Check out the example:

The global warning is not going to be beneficial for the atmosphere. → a concrete noun

In this example, the atmosphere is made of different gases, so it is concrete.

I went to the party and they were really friendly, actually it was a welcoming atmosphere. → an abstract noun

Here in this example, you cannot see a physical concept so it is not concrete.

examples of abstract and concrete nouns

Abstract Nouns

An abstract noun is something we cannot perceive through our five senses. It can be an idea, a concept, a feeling, a quality. Based on whether we can sense a noun or not, they are put into different groups. Here are a few examples on the list:

  • Feelings and emotions: sadness, happiness, depression, envy, fear
  • States: history, terrorism, politics
  • Qualities: beauty, generosity, honesty, trust
  • Concepts: faith, motivation, opportunity
  • Ideas: wisdom, friendship, knowledge
  • Events: birthday, death, holiday, Christmas, days of the week

How to Recognize Abstract Nouns

Whenever we face a noun we can ask whether we can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell the noun. If the answer to this question is 'no,' then the noun is an abstract noun.

Holidays are my favorite parts of the year.

You cannot sense the 'holidays,' so it is an abstract noun.

Mandarin is really hard to learn.

Types of Abstract Nouns in a Sentence

Based on whether an abstract noun can be counted or not, it is categorized into two groups:

If you are able to count a noun that cannot be sensed, then you are dealing with a countable abstract noun, If you could not count an abstract noun, it is an uncountable abstract noun. Keep in mind that abstract nouns are most likely uncountable nouns.

Your dreams are based on what happens to you during the day. → countable abstract noun

You need the highest level of knowledge to find new cells. → uncountable abstract noun

Based on whether an abstract noun refers to generic concepts or specific ones, it is categorized into two groups.

Abstract nouns can refer to generic ideas that are regarded as common abstract nouns, and they can also indicate specific concepts which in this case they are called proper common nouns. Remember, proper abstract nouns are capitalized at the beginning. Abstract nouns are usually common nouns.

Her unbelievable beauty made every one fascinated. → common abstract noun

We dedicated all the money of the wedding to the charity. → common abstract noun

See you on Wednesday. → proper abstract noun

How to Make Abstract Nouns?

In many cases, you can take a concrete noun, adjective, or verb and by adding a suffix to it, or by slightly changing the root of the word, we can make them abstract. You can see some of these suffixes below:

  • -ness: happiness, sadness
  • -hood: childhood, neighborhood
  • -tion: depression, intention
  • -ship: relationship, friendship
  • -ability: likability, capability
  • -acy: adequacy, bureaucracy
  • -ance: defiance, intolerance
  • -ment: ailment, argument
  • -ness: fitness, fondness
  • -ence: deference; violence

Abstract or Concrete?

It is not always easy to decide whether a noun is abstract or concrete. For example, the word 'job' or 'laughter.' Some may argue that 'job' is the collection of tasks that a person does and you can see someone working at a job, but you cannot actually see a job. Therefore it's an abstract noun. 'Laughter' is often cited as an abstract noun, but 'laughter' can be heard, which would make it a concrete noun.

Review

Based on what we can or cannot perceive through our five senses, we can categorize nouns into two groups

  1. Abstract nouns
  2. Concrete nouns
Concrete nouns Abstract nouns
a concrete noun is a noun that we can perceive through our five senses. an abstract noun a noun we cannot perceive through our five senses.
ness hood tion ship ability
Making abstract nouns out of concrete ones happiness, sadness childhood, neighborhood depression, intention relationship, friendship likability, capability

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