You probably already know that a noun is a word that denotes a person, place, thing, or idea—this is a concept we learn relatively early in school. Needless to say, there are several different types of nouns that we use to depict everything we experience during our life: We eat food. We meet friends. We go to work. These types of nouns refer to the people and physical objects that we interact with.
So what about the things that we can’t physically see or touch? Aren’t words like victory, joy, and alliance nouns, too? Yes, they are. There is a term you may or may not remember from your grade-school days that we use to refer to such a thing: the abstract noun.
Related: Abstract vs. Concrete Language
What’s an abstract noun?
An abstract noun is “a noun that refers to something immaterial or abstract.” Another prevalent way to think about abstract nouns is that they refer to things you can’t experience with the five senses. You can’t touch, see, hear, smell, or taste, abstract nouns. Abstract nouns refer to intangible things, something that doesn’t exist as a physical object.
For instance, the word puppy refers to a cute animal. You can see and touch a puppy. The noun puppy is not an abstract noun. Oppositely, the word luck refers to a compound idea about how likely it is that good or bad events are going to occur to a person. Luck does not exist as a physical object; you can’t smell luck nor can you go to a store and buy it. Luck is an abstract noun because it denotes an immaterial concept rather than a physical object that we can experience with our senses.
Abstract noun examples
Unlike most other types of nouns, abstract nouns don’t refer to people or places. People and places are real things that do exist in the world. Even nouns that refer to fictional characters or places, such as King Kong or Neverland, are not, as reasoning goes, abstract nouns because these things would have a physical form if they were, in fact, real.
So, all abstract nouns are “things.” You must remember, though, that an abstract noun only refers to something intangible like emotions, concepts, ideas, and philosophies. Let’s stop being abstract and take a look at some distinct examples so we can better understand them.
Although we usually will say that we “feel” emotions, we don’t mean it literally. You “feel” emotions like sadness or anger as a thought in your mind or an activity in your brain and body. You can’t hold sadness in your hand or eat a bowl of happiness. You can see people or animals expressing those emotions through actions, but emotions are intangible objects. So this is why we refer to them with abstract nouns.
- Examples: anger, sadness, surprise, disgust, joy, fear, happiness, anxiety, hope, confusion, relief
Ideas, concepts, and beliefs
Apart from emotions, they are also utilized to refer to other concepts and beliefs. This kind of abstract nouns gives names to complex topics and gives us a glimpse into a big piece of what makes us human—our brains! While abstract nouns are mostly common nouns, meaning that they refer to a general idea, they can also be proper nouns, like Christianity.
- Examples: Christianity, Islam, Cubism, government, dedication, cruelty, justice
A List of abstract nouns
To better understand, let’s look at a whole bunch more of them:
- Stoicism, Marxism, religion, science, magnetism, creativity, invisibility, kindness, greed, laziness, effort, time, speed, concentration, confusion, dizziness, situation, existence, death, anarchy, law, democracy, relief, hopelessness, defeat, opportunity, technology, discovery, friendship, patience, decay, holiness, youth, childhood, experimentation, research
The difference between an abstract & a concrete noun
Grasping what abstract nouns are, exactly, can be difficult. While abstract nouns refer to things that are not tangible and without a physical form, all of the people, places, and things that actually do have a physical form are referred to by a certain kind of noun: a concrete noun. Unlike an abstract noun, concrete nouns actually can be experienced with all five senses: they can take a physical form rather than an image, say, in your mind’s eye of catness. You can smell a flower. You can touch a lamp. You can eat an apple. You can hear an alarm. You can see a hillside.
So, your five senses can help you differentiate between abstract and concrete nouns. Keep in mind, words for fictional people, places, and things are deemed concrete nouns even though they don’t actually exist in our world. You might never be able to smell a zombie in everyday life, but you could if it were real—just remember to run if you ever do see one!
Now let’s put your noun knowledge to the test with some sample sentences. Read every sentence and see if you can decide if each italicized noun is either abstract or concrete.
- Billionaire Elon Musk is famous for his wealth.
- Next month, we are going on vacation to Paris.
- When I grow up, I wish to be a superhero.
- She said that he’s possessed by a ghost.
- This robot has many impressive abilities.
- His blindness didn’t stop him from being successful.
- She was attacked by a swarm of bees.
- She sells seashells by the seashore.
- They heard shouting from across the street.
- That girl only wants attention from her parents.
Answers: 1. Abstract 2. Concrete 3. Concrete 4. Concrete 5. Abstract 6. Abstract 7. Concrete 8. Concrete 9. Concrete 10. Abstract
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