A common noun is a type of noun or naming word. It refers to general objects, places, people, and animals that don’t have specific names.
Unlike a proper noun, a common noun does not need a capital letter unless they are at the start of a sentence. In English, all nouns fall into one of these categories, along with concrete nouns, which refer to physical objects like a dog, a building, or a tree, and abstract nouns, which are intangible concepts such as love, justice, and fear.
People’s names are proper nouns, as are the names of specific places, days of the week, and the names of particular companies and products. Proper nouns are always capitalized, not dependent on where they are in the sentence. Sometimes pronouns are used instead of nouns in sentences.
Examples of common nouns are:
Common Noun Example Sentences
“The butterfly landed on the young girl’s hand.”
In this example, the common noun butterfly is used. We can tell it’s a common noun because it isn’t capitalized and doesn’t refer to a specific person, place, day, or name.
Can you spot the other common nouns in the sentence above?
The nouns girl and hand are also common nouns used in the sentence. But if the sentence used the girl’s name, for example, “the butterfly landed on Laura’s hand,” then this would be an example of a proper noun.
“On Tuesday, she bought a new hat.”
This sentence uses the familiar noun hat. The sentence also includes the noun Tuesday, which refers to a specific day and must be capitalized.
“The car broke down when he was on his way to work.”
This sentence includes the typical noun car and the typical noun work. There are no proper nouns in this example.Top of Form
When should you use common nouns?
So, now you know what common nouns are, when should you use them? Well, common nouns are used to describe a specific group of objects or a concept. Therefore, it can be classified as a common noun since it is a ‘thing’ in a general sense.
Let’s go through some examples of things that are common nouns:
Professions or Jobs
When describing any job, the name of the said job is classified as a common noun. For example, doctors, teachers, chemists, singers, chefs, nurses, lawyers, etc.
- The lawyer paced around her office.
- The doctor looked over his notes carefully at the end of the day.
- The singer went through a series of vocal warm-ups every night before performing.
- The nurse was late for his shift because he missed the bus.
Generally speaking, people are referred to as common nouns. However, this excludes when they are called by name, as all names require capitalization as they are proper nouns. Instead, common nouns are used when referring to people using a title. For example, familial words like father, mother, sister, etc., are all common nouns.
- My father works in another country, so I only see him during the holidays.
- The girl ran to her friend’s house to tell her the good news.
- My mother is the most important woman in my life.
- The boy tore apart his bedroom, searching for his favorite jumper.
There are some instances in which common nouns like mother and father become proper nouns. For example, this happens to the word ‘mother’ when it is used to address someone or as a name directly. It can also be the case for words like ‘sister’ etc.
- The girl cleared her throat, “Mother, would you please pass me the salt?”
- Tommy handed Sister Thompson his homework at the end of the lesson.
Common nouns are used to refer to objects. For example, trousers, cars, plates, fences, chairs, etc.
- The boy packed up his car for university.
- Jenny loaned her favorite pair of jeans to her best friend but never got them back.
- The boat rocked from side to side because of the strong winds.
- Mrs. Brown’s neighbors came over to help her paint her garden fence.
Concepts and Ideas
In addition to describing specific objects, common nouns can be used to tell more abstract things like concepts, ideas, and emotions. For example, love, guilt, peace, kindness, hate, etc.
- All of the world leaders met together to discuss how to achieve world peace.
- As soon as you walked into the room, the feeling of love was overwhelming.
- The teenagers were heavily invested in popular culture.
- It was essential to the mother that her children learned empathy from a young age.
How to recognize a common noun?
Now that you know what common nouns are and when to use them, it should be pretty easy for you to recognize them. So let’s put your knowledge to the test with a few practice sentences.
Sarah chose to do her research project on Mother Theresa, a Catholic nun, missionary, and saint known to have performed two miracles.
- For her project, Sarah asked her mother to take her to the library so that she could pick out some books.
The word mother is used in both of these sentences, but in one case, it is capitalized, and in the other, it is not. Do you know why this is? Can you spot which of these is a proper noun and which is a common noun?
Let’s look at some instances when words can be both proper and common nouns, depending on their context. This is the case for jobs which, as mentioned before, are common nouns. However, it becomes a proper noun if you use a position to refer to someone’s specific title. For example:
- Professor Jane Reid was the head of the English department at the university.
- Constable Henry Smith wanted to work in law enforcement since he was five.
- Her colleagues congratulated Doctor Amy Winston after a very successful surgery.
Let’s look at how these job titles can be written as common nouns.
- Jane Reid was the professor in charge of the English department at the university.
- Henry Smith worked hard to become a constable in the police force.
- The other doctors congratulated Amy Winston after she performed a very successful surgery.
For the most part, the rule is that common nouns are general names, and unless they are part of a title or at the beginning of a sentence, they do not require a capital letter.