Teaching Students About an Abstract Noun

What is an abstract noun?

An abstract noun names a quality or an idea that cannot be physically quantified with the senses. Instead, it symbolizes an abstract concept, such as a feeling, a quality, or an idea. In other words, abstract nouns are intangible concepts.

Examples of abstract nouns:

When helping children get to grips with abstract nouns, the key is to show them plenty of examples. This will show that plenty of abstract nouns are words they already know. It will also allow kids to draw parallels between different models, which will help them identify abstract nouns in the future.

Here are a couple of examples of abstract nouns that you and your kids might know already:

  • Freedom;
  • Danger;
  • Charity;
  • Justice;
  • Generosity;
  • Hope;
  • Love.

We have an idea of what these words mean but cannot physically experience them with the five senses.

Identifying abstract nouns:

If you’re faced with a word and want to identify whether or not it’s an abstract noun, there are plenty of questions to ask yourself.

Is this a noun?

Firstly, you can check if the word is a noun. This means that it is a thing. Check if you can put a determiner in front of it – a word such as a/anthe, or these.

For example, the word dog is a noun, as you can say a dogthe dog, or these dogs. However, an adjective such as lovely won’t make sense with just a determiner in front of it – you can’t have a phase that looks like a lovelythe lovely, or these lovely.

Can I experience this noun with the five senses?

Once you’ve identified your noun, you can check whether it is abstract. As we know, you can’t experience an abstract noun with the five senses – you can’t see, hear, smell, taste, or touch it.

So taking our dog’s example, we know it’s not an abstract noun as we can see, smell, touch, and hear it.

But let’s look at another word, such as freedom. In this case, we can’t see, smell, hear, taste, or touch liberty. We can feel it in our hearts and minds and experience it – but not with our five tangible senses.

Abstract vs. concrete nouns:

The opposite of an abstract noun is called a concrete noun. This refers to any noun that is not abstract – in other words, we can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch it.

These can be experienced and include categories such as people, animals, materials, and foodstuffs.

Some examples of concrete nouns include:

  • Dog;
  • Chair;
  • Moon;
  • Table;
  • Water;
  • Book.

Is air an abstract noun?

While some nouns fit into their category of noun nicely, some are a little trickier to classify. For example, certain things include air, ghosts, or wind.

You might think that we can’t see these things – so they must be abstract nouns, right? While these are less obviously identified, they are still concrete. So the answer is no – air is not an abstract noun. We can feel it on our skin, and we experience the effect of it by breathing. The gases that make up the air have physical properties.

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