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Using nouns correctly in English is relatively simple, with standard rules and only a few exceptions. Use this page to learn about the English grammar rules for gender, plurals, countable and uncountable nouns, compound nouns, capitalization, nationalities, and forming the possessive.

Noun Gender

Nouns answer the questions "What is it?" and "Who is it?" They give names to things, people, and places. Examples

  • dog

  • bicycle

  • Mary

  • girl

  • beauty

  • France

  • world

In general there is no distinction between masculine, feminine in English nouns. However, gender is sometimes shown by different forms or different words when referring to people or animals. Examples

Many nouns that refer to people's roles and jobs can be used for either a masculine or a feminine subject, like for example cousin, teenager, teacher, doctor, student, friend, colleague Examples

  • Mary is my friend. She is a doctor.

  • Peter is my cousin. He is a doctor.

  • Arthur is my friend. He is a student.

  • Jane is my cousin. She is a student.

It is possible to make the distinction for these neutral words by adding the words male or female. Examples

  • Sam is a female doctor.

  • No, he is not my boyfriend, he is just a male friend.

  • I have three female cousins and two male cousins.

Infrequently, nouns describing things without a gender are referred to with a gendered pronoun to show familiarity. It is also correct to use the gender-neutral pronoun (it). Examples

  • I love my car. She (the car) is my greatest passion.

  • France is popular with her (France's) neighbours at the moment.

  • I travelled from England to New York on the Queen Elizabeth; she (the Queen Elizabeth) is a great ship.

Singular and Plural Nouns

Regular Nouns

Most singular nouns form the plural by adding -s. Examples

SingularPluralboatboatshousehousescatcatsriverrivers A singular noun ending in s, x, z, ch, sh makes the plural by adding-es. Examples SingularPluralbusbuseswishwishespitchpitchesboxboxes

A singular noun ending in a consonant and then y makes the plural by dropping the y and adding-ies. Examples SingularPluralpennypenniesspyspiesbabybabiescitycitiesdaisydaisies

Irregular nouns There are some irregular noun plurals. The most common ones are listed below. Examples SingularPluralwomanwomenmanmenchildchildrentoothteethfootfeetpersonpeopleleafleavesmousemicegoosegeesehalfhalvesknifekniveswifewiveslifeliveselfelvesloafloavespotatopotatoestomatotomatoescactuscactifocusfocifungusfunginucleusnucleisyllabussyllabi/syllabusesanalysisanalysesdiagnosisdiagnosesoasisoasesthesisthesescrisiscrisesphenomenonphenomenacriterioncriteriadatumdata Some nouns have the same form in the singular and the plural. Examples SingularPluralsheepsheepfishfishdeerdeerspeciesspeciesaircraftaircraft Irregular verb/noun agreement Some nouns have a plural form but take a singular verb. Plural nouns used with a singular verbSentencenewsThe news is at 6.30 p.m.athleticsAthletics is good for young people.linguisticsLinguistics is the study of language.dartsDarts is a popular game in England.billiardsBilliards is played all over the world.Some nouns have a fixed plural form and take a plural verb. They are not used in the singular, or they have a different meaning in the singular. Nouns like this include: trousers, jeans, glasses, savings, thanks, steps, stairs, customs, congratulations, tropics, wages, spectacles, outskirts, goods, wits Plural noun with plural verbSentencetrousersMy trousers are too tight.jeansHer jeans are black.glassesThose glasses are his.


Pronouns replace nouns. A different pronoun is required depending on two elements: the noun being replaced and the function that noun has in the sentence. In English, pronouns only take the gender of the noun they replace in the 3rd person singular form. The 2nd person plural pronouns are identical to the 2nd person singular pronouns except for the reflexive pronoun.

Subject Pronouns Subject pronouns replace nouns that are the subject of their clause. In the 3rd person, subject pronouns are often used to avoid repetition of the subject's name. Examples

  • I am 16.

  • You seem lost.

  • Jim is angry, and he wants Sally to apologize.

  • This table is old. It needs to be repainted.

  • We aren't coming.

  • They don't like pancakes.

Object Pronouns Object pronouns are used to replace nouns that are the direct or indirect object of a clause. Examples

  • Give the book to me.

  • The teacher wants to talk to you.

  • Jake is hurt because Bill hit him.

  • Rachid recieved a letter from her last week.

  • Mark can't find it.

  • Don't be angry with us.

  • Tell them to hurry up!

Possessive Adjectives (Determiners) Possessive adjectives are not pronouns, but rather determiners. It is useful to learn them at the same time as pronouns, however, because they are similar in form to the possessive pronouns. Possessive adjectives function as adjectives, so they appear before the noun they modify. They do not replace a noun as pronouns do. Examples

  • Did mother find my shoes?

  • Mrs. Baker wants to see your homework.

  • Can Jake bring over his baseball cards?

  • Samantha will fix her bike tomorrow.

  • The cat broke its leg.

  • This is our house.

  • Where is their school?

Possessive Pronouns Possessive pronouns replace possessive nouns as either the subject or the object of a clause. Because the noun being replaced doesn't appear in the sentence, it must be clear from the context. Examples

  • This bag is mine.

  • Yours is not blue.

  • That bag looks like his.

  • These shoes are not hers.

  • That car is ours.

  • Theirs is parked in the garage.

Reflexive & Intensive Pronouns Reflexive and intensive pronouns are the same set of words but they have different functions in a sentence.

Reflexive pronouns refer back to the subject of the clause because the subject of the action is also the direct or indirect object. Only certain types of verbs can be reflexive. You cannot remove a reflexive pronoun from a sentence because the remaining sentence would be grammatically incorrect. Examples

  • I told myself to calm down.

  • You cut yourself on this nail?

  • He hurt himself on the stairs.

  • She found herself in a dangerous part of town.

  • The cat threw itself under my car!

  • We blame ourselves for the fire.

  • The children can take care of themselves.

Intensive pronouns emphasize the subject of a clause. They are not the object of the action. The intensive pronoun can always be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning significantly, although the emphasis on the subject will be removed. Intensive pronouns can be placed immediately after the subject of the clause, or at the end of the clause. Examples

  • I made these cookies myself.

  • You yourself asked Jake to come.

  • The Pope himself pardoned Mr. Brown.

  • My teacher didn't know the answer herself.

  • The test itself wasn't scary, but my teacher certainly is.

  • We would like to finish the renovation before Christmas ourselves.

  • They themselves told me the lost shoe wasn't a problem.

Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns do not refer to a specific person, place, or thing. In English, there is a particular group of indefinite pronouns formed with a quantifier or distributive preceded by any, some, every and no.

Indefinite pronouns with some and any are used to describe indefinite and incomplete quantities in the same way that some and any are used alone.

Indefinite pronouns are placed in the same location as a noun would go in the sentence.

Affirmative In affirmative sentences, indefinite pronouns using some are used to describe an indefinite quantity, the indefinite pronouns with every are used to describe a complete quantity, and the pronouns with no are used to describe an absence. Indefinite pronouns with no are often used in affirmative sentences with a negative meaning, but these are nevertheless not negative sentences because they are lacking the word not. Examples

  • Everyone is sleeping in my bed.

  • Someone is sleeping in my bed.

  • No one is sleeping in my bed.

  • I gave everything to Sally.

  • He saw something in the garden.

  • There is nothing to eat.

  • I looked everywhere for my keys.

  • Keith is looking for somewhere to live.

  • There is nowhere as beautiful as Paris.

Any and the indefinite pronouns formed with it can also be used in affirmative sentences with a meaning that is close to every: whichever person, whichever place, whichever thing, etc. Examples

  • They can choose anything from the menu.

  • You may invite anybody you want to your birthday party.

  • We can go anywhere you'd like this summer.

  • He would give anything to get into Oxford.

  • Fido would follow you anywhere.

Negative sentences Negative sentences can only be formed with the indefinite pronouns that include any. Examples

  • I don't have anything to eat.

  • She didn't go anywhere last week.

  • I can't find anyone to come with me.

Many negative sentences that include an indefinite pronoun with any can be turned into affirmative sentences with a negative meaning by using an indefinite pronoun with no. However, there is a change in meaning with this transformation: the sentence that includes an indefinite pronoun with no is stronger, and can imply emotional content such as definsiveness, hopelessness, anger, etc. Examples

  • I don't know anything about it. = neutral

  • I know nothing about it. = defensive

  • I don't have anybody to talk to. = neutral

  • I have nobody to talk to. = hopeless

  • There wasn't anything we could do. = neutral

  • There was nothing we could do. = defensive/angry

Negative questions Indefinite pronouns with every, some, and any can be used to form negative questions. These questions can usually be answered with a "yes" or a "no" Pronouns formed with anyand every are used to form true questions, while those with some generally imply a question to which we already know or suspect the answer. Examples

  • Is there anything to eat?

  • Did you go anywhere last night?

  • Is everyone here?

  • Have you looked everywhere?

These questions can be turned in to false or rhetorical questions by making them negative. The speaker, when posing a question of this type, is expecting an answer of "no". Examples

  • Isn't there anything to eat?

  • Didn't you go anywhere last night?

  • Isn't everyone here?

  • Haven't you looked everywhere?

Some and pronouns formed with it is only used in questions to which we think we already know the answer, or questions which are not true questions (invitations, requests, etc.) The person asking these questions is expecting an answer of "Yes". Examples

  • Are you looking for someone?

  • Have you lost something?

  • Are you going somewhere?

  • Could somebody help me, please? = request

  • Would you like to go somewhere this weekend? = invitation

These questions can be made even more definite if they are made negative. In this case, the speaker is absolutely certain he will receive the answer "Yes". Examples

  • Aren't you looking for someone?

  • Haven't you lost something?

  • Aren't you going somewhere?

  • Couldn't somebody help me, please?

  • Wouldn't you like to go somewhere this weekend?

Capitalization Rules

Capital letters are used with particular types of nouns, in certain positions in sentences, and with some adjectives. You must always use capital letters for:

The beginning of a sentence Examples

  • Dogs are noisy.

  • Children are noisy too.

The first person personal pronoun, I Examples

  • Yesterday, I went to the park.

  • He isn't like I am.

Names and titles of people Examples

  • Winston Churchill

  • Marilyn Monroe

  • the Queen of England

  • the President of the United States

  • the Headmaster of Eton

  • Doctor Mathews

  • Professor Samuels

Titles of works, books, movies Examples

  • War and Peace

  • The Merchant of Venice

  • Crime and Punishment

  • Spider Man II

Months of the year Examples

  • January

  • July

  • February

  • August

Days of the week Examples

  • Monday

  • Friday

  • Tuesday

  • Saturday

Holidays Examples

  • Christmas

  • Easter

  • New Year's Day

  • Thanksgiving Day

Names of countries and continents Examples

  • America

  • England

  • Scotland

  • China

Names of regions, states, districts Examples

  • Sussex

  • California

  • Provence

  • Tuscany

Names of cities, towns, villages Examples

  • London

  • Cape Town

  • Florence

  • Vancouver

Names of rivers, oceans, seas, lakes Examples

  • the Atlantic

  • the Pacific

  • Lake Victoria

  • the Rhine

  • the Thames

Names of geographical formations Examples

  • the Himalayas

  • the Alps

  • the Sahara

Adjectives relating to nationality Examples

  • French music

  • Australian animals

  • German literature

  • Arabic writing

Collective nouns for nationalities Examples

  • the French

  • the Germans

  • the Americans

  • the Chinese

Language names Examples

  • I speak Chinese.

  • He understands English.

Names of streets, buildings, parks Examples

  • Park Lane

  • Sydney Opera House

  • Central Park

  • the Empire State Building

  • Wall Street


Forming nationality adjectives and nouns from country names is not always simple in English. Use the nationality adjective ending in -ese or -ish with a plural verb, to refer to all people of that nationality. The adjective listed also often refers to the language spoken in the country, although this is not always the case. Examples

  • Country: I live in Japan.

  • Adjective: He likes Japanese food.

  • Origins: She is a Japanese person. = She is from Japan. = She is Japanese.

  • Language: She speaks Japanese.

  • Describing a group: Spaniards often drink wine. = Spanish people often drink wine.

  • Describing a group: The Chinese enjoy fireworks. = Chinese people enjoy fireworks.

In some cases, a nationality or regional noun may be negatively correlated for some people, for historic or political reasons. When this is the case, many people will not use it, but will instead use a more neutral adjective + "people" formulation or "people from" + country name. This is the case for the examples with an asterisk below. Alternative formulations, less likely to give offense, are given in parentheses.

Cities also can be transformed into adjectives and nouns, although they are highly irregular and the nominal form is not always agreed upon (there may be several). Some examples of transformed city names are below.

Forming The Possessive

The possessive form is used with nouns referring to people, groups of people, countries, and animals. It shows a relationship of belonging between one thing and another. To form the possessive, add apostrophe + s to the noun. If the noun is plural, or already ends in s, just add an apostrophe after the s. Examples

  • the car of John = John's car

  • the room of the girls = the girls' room

  • clothes for men = men's clothes

  • the boat of the sailors = the sailors' boat

For names ending in s, you can either add an apostrophe + s, or just an apostrophe. The first option is more common. When pronouncing a possessive name, we add the sound /z/ to the end of the name. Examples

  • Thomas's book (or Thomas' book)

  • James's shop (or James' shop)

  • the Smiths's house (or the Smiths' house)

Functions of the Possessive

'Belonging to' or 'ownership' is the most common relationship the possessive expresses. Examples

  • John owns a car. = It is John's car.

  • America has some gold reserves. = They are America's gold reserves.

The possessive can also express where someone works, studies or spends time Examples

  • John goes to this school. = This is John's school.

  • John sleeps in this room. = This is John's room.

The possessive can express a relationship between people. Examples

  • John's mother is running late.

  • Mrs Brown's colleague will not be coming to the meeting.

The possessive can express intangible things as well. Examples

  • John's patience is running out.

  • The politician's hypocrisy was deeply shocking.

Fixed Expressions

There are also some fixed expressions where the possessive form is used. Examples with time

  • a day's work

  • a month's pay

  • today's newspaper

  • in a year's time

Other examples

  • For God's sake! (= exclamation of exasperation)

  • a stone's throw away (= very near)

  • at death's door (= very ill)

  • in my mind's eye (= in my imagination)

The possessive is also used to refer to shops, restaurants, churches and colleges, using the name or job title of the owner. Examples

  • Shall we go to Luigi's for lunch?

  • I've got an appointment at the dentist's at eleven o'clock.

  • Is Saint Mary's an all-girls school?

Reproduced from publicly available articles on

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