Tag Archives: nouns

Monday Morning Grammar: Nouns Part VI—Forming New Nouns

In anticipation of the English language’s millionth word, Forbes recently put together a special report on neologisms—i.e., new words that have entered the lexicon. As you peruse the articles, you’ll notice that several of these coinages, such as carpocalypse and momager, are nouns created by smashing two existing words together to create a new one that draws meaning from the associations of its parts: car plus apocalypse equals the disaster or destruction of the automobile industry, and mom plus manager equals a mother who controls or directs her child’s career.

Traditionally, new nouns are coined not by word-on-word smashups but by simple addition. This can happen in one of two ways:

Compound nouns combine two or more words to form one new one, either with spaces (swimming pool), with hyphens (mother-in-law), or without (bedroom).

What’s called a derivative noun is formed by adding a prefix or suffix to an existing noun, adjective, or verb. Common prefixes include cross- (crossroad), half- (halftime), mid- (midpoint), and self- (self-confidence). Common suffixes include -ness (liveliness), -ship (friendship), -dom (freedom), -th (depth), and -er (winner).

Today’s post marks Mots Justes’ last in a continuing series on nouns. Starting next week, we’ll tackle the noun’s closest relative, the pronoun.

Resource

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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Monday Morning Grammar: Nouns Part V—Agent and Recipient Nouns

Mots Justes learned something new during this Monday Morning Grammar series on nouns: attendee isn’t technically the correct form of a noun to describe a person who attends an event. I used attendee all the time when I worked as a trade journalist covering industry conventions to refer to those in attendance. What I should have been using was attender (a word, by the way, that Microsoft Word has warned me is incorrect with a red squiggly line but is indeed listed at Merriam-Webster Online).

To find out why, first we need to understand the difference between agent and recipient nouns:

An agent noun refers to a person who perform an action. Usually you form an agent noun by adding the suffixes -er or -or to the action the person is performing. For example, a writer writes, and an editor edits.

A recipient noun refers to a person who receives a thing or action or for whom something is done. Usually you form an agent noun by adding the suffix -ee. For example, a mentee is someone who is mentored, and a tutee is someone who is tutored.

Now, back to attendee. Based on what we have learned today, we now know that nouns ending in -ee are recipient nouns, so grammatically attendee doesn’t refer to someone who attends something but to someone whom is attended.

Although attendee is so commonly used as an agent noun and attender sounds awkward, it’s unlikely a reader will be confused by the two. However, Chicago recommends avoiding using -ee words in agent-noun contexts because they can be ambiguous.

Resource
Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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Monday Morning Grammar: Nouns Part IV—When Nouns Aren’t Nouns

The noun is perhaps the first part of speech one learns in elementary school grammar. In Mots Justes’ previous post on the basics, we were reminded that nouns name people, places, and things. Sometimes, though, a noun doesn’t function like one.

Appositives

A noun that immediately follows another noun is called an appositive. It functions similarly to an adjective, but instead of modifying the nearby noun, an appositive renames it, defining it or further identifying it:

Jim, the leader of the group, made plans for dinner Saturday night.
His friend Derrick complained about the restaurant he chose.

In these two examples, leader renames Jim, and Derrick renames friend.

You may have noticed that in the first example, commas are used to set off the appositive from the rest of the sentence, and in the second they aren’t. This is a rule that I have to stop and think about almost every time I run across it.

Use commas to set off an appositive if it nonrestrictive—that is, if the information is not essential for us to understand to which noun the appositive is referring:

Jim also invited my best friend, Mary.
Derrick’s cousin Bob invited himself along.

In the first example above, I have only one best friend. Therefore, Mary is additional information that is not essential for us to understand who was invited, so commas are used. In the second example, however, Derrick may have many cousins, so the inclusion of Bob helps us understand who invited himself along, so commas aren’t used.

Nouns as Adjectives

Sometimes a word that is usually used as a noun can be used as another part of speech. When a noun is used as an adjective, it modifies another noun:

Jim complained about the slow service to the restaurant manager.

Be careful, though—sometimes using a noun as an adjective creates a phrase that might be confusing to the reader:

The server shared customer comments with her manager.

Are these comments by the customers or about the customers? Often a reader can glean the writer’s intended meaning, but sometimes using a proposition can clear up any ambiguities:

The server shared the comments from the customers with her manager.
The server shared her comments about the customers with her manager.

Nouns as Verbs

A word that is usually used as a noun also sometimes takes on the meaning of a verb:

The restaurant manager chaired a meeting on good service.

Often the use of nouns as verbs appears in casual language or jargon:

Derrick friended the cute waitress on Facebook.

Such informal use should be avoided in formal writing.

Other Parts of Speech as Nouns

Just as nouns can be used as other parts of speech, so can other parts of speech be used as nouns.

Adjective as noun: Jim can’t be swayed from his convictions by the beautiful.
Adverb as noun: Derrick thought their drink order came out fast, but Jim said, “I’m not talking about then. I’m talking about now.”
Participle as noun: Derrick’s tipping the waitress generously undermined the statement Jim was trying to make.
Infinitive as noun: Jim’s goal is to avoid making dinner plans with Derrick in the future.

Next week in Monday Morning Grammar, MJ will post a bonus column on the formation of new nouns.

Resources

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Fogarty, Mignon, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

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Monday Morning Grammar: Nouns Part III—Properties

Although a bit later than expected, Mots Justes is picking up today on a continuing series on the noun. In previous posts, we established the basics and discussed pluralization. Today we’ll look at the four properties of nouns:

1. Case alludes to how a noun relates to other words in a sentence. Only nouns and pronouns have case.

a. A noun in nominative case functions as the subject of a sentence or clause. It is the person, place, or thing that is performing the verb:

The boys left because the cafeteria was serving fish sticks for lunch again.

The number (discussed below) of a subject determines the number of the verb and usually comes before it, but a subject can appear anywhere in a sentence:

From the cafeteria windows watched the girls.

A noun or pronoun that follows to be or any of its variants and refers to the same thing as the subject is also in nominative case. It is called a predicate nominative because it appears in the part of the sentence or clause that contains a verb—i.e., the predicate:

The vehicle was a golf cart.

b. A noun in objective case functions as an object in a sentence or clause. Objects appear in two places:

i. a noun acted on by a transitive verb:

The boys drove a golf cart.

ii. a noun connected to another part of the sentence by, say, a preposition:

The boys drove to the store.

An object usually follows a verb, but like a subject can appear anywhere in a sentence:

The boys bought fresh hot dogs and nachos; the stale donuts they declined.

Be careful not to mistake an object as the subject of a verb that follows it:

The stunt pulled by the boys has limited privileges for the whole school.

Here, stunt is the subject and agrees with the verb has limited.

c. Possessive case shows

i. ownership, possession, or occupancy (the golf cart’s wheels);

ii. a relationship (the boys’ principal);

iii. agency (the school’s lawyer); or

iv. shorthand for an of phrase (a week’s detention versus detention of one week).

The form of a noun does not change between nominative and objective case, but it does for possessive case. In general, to make a singular noun possessive, simply add ’s (the principal’s rage). To make a plural noun that ends in s or es possessive, add an apostrophe (the boys’ adventure). To make an irregular plural noun possessive, add ’s (the children’s punishment).

Possessives will be discussed in more detail in a later MJ post.

2. Gender refers to the sex of a noun. It can be masculine, feminine, or neuter. In English, there are four instances in which gender is assigned to a noun (unlike, say, German, which assigns gender to many more of its nouns, regardless of the following):

a. when a noun refers specifically to male or female people or animals (king versus queen or rooster versus hen);

b. when part of a compound noun contains a masculine or feminine noun or pronoun (spokesman or girlfriend);

c. when a noun has a feminine suffix (actress, executrix); or

d. when a noun refers to a nonliving thing as if it were male or female, such as the tradition of dubbing a ship “she.” This is called personification.

3. Number has to do with how many people, places, or things a noun refers to—basically whether a noun is singular (referring to one thing) or plural (referring to two or more things). MJ already discussed plurals at length in the previous post in this series.

4. Person works for nouns in the same way it does for pronouns.

A first-person noun is speaking:

We seniors will select the commencement speaker.

A second-person noun is being spoken to:

Boys, be quiet during the ceremony.

A third-person noun is being spoken about:

The band played the graduation march.

Next week in Monday Morning Grammar, MJ will wrap up this series on nouns.

Resource

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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Monday Morning Grammar: Nouns Part I—The Basics

Starting today, Mots Justes will return to its regular publishing schedule. Check back each Monday for posts on grammar, Tuesday for punctuation, Wednesday for writing exercises, and alternating weeks for Usage Thursdays and Friday Book Reviews. MJ looks forward to getting back into routine and hope you do, too.

So, without further ado, let’s talk about perhaps the most basic part of speech, the noun.

A noun names a person, place, or thing:

My brother went to the mall to buy a television.

Nouns can name things that are either tangible or intangible:

The letters my mother wrote to my father during the war demonstrated her love and loyalty during their separation.

Common Vs. Proper Nouns

A common noun names general people, places, or things and are not capitalized unless they appear at the start of a sentence or in a title:

My sister drove to the store to pick up some ice cream.

A proper noun names a specific person, place, or thing, and is always capitalized:

Erica drove to Whole Foods to pick up some Breyers.

Here are some categories of nouns that are proper and so should be capitalized:

  • religions, including the names of the deity, followers, and sacred books
  • family relationships when they are used as names:

Mom reminded us to pick up a birthday card for our father.

  • particular places
  • nationalities and languages, as well as races and tribes
  • educational institutions, departments, degrees, and specific courses (Algebra I), but not general school subjects unless they are the names of languages (math vs. English)
  • government departments, organizations, and political parties
  • historical movements, periods, events, and documents
  • months, days of the week, and holidays, but not seasons

Count Vs. Noncount Nouns

Count nouns are simply names of people, places, or things that can be, well, counted:

The librarian put the books back on the shelf.

Mots Justes has already covered noncount nouns, or collective nouns, at length here.

Mots Justes will continue to discuss nouns throughout the month of March. Next week, we’ll cover plural nouns.

Resources

Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Fogarty, Mignon, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

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