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Some Tips for Navigating Nouns in English

May 1st, 2008

As you may know, nouns are a class of words that relate to names of objects, places, and living things. Unfortunately, when you are trying to sort out the subject of a sentence, it can be difficult to tell which words are being used as nouns, and which ones are being used in a more descriptive fashion. For example, the word “city” can be a noun, or it can describe a specific population density. Therefore, when determining where nouns are in a sentence, you’ll need to use cues within the sentence to make sure that you’ve identified them correctly.

Nouns in regular sentences

In many cases, you’ll find that either the first or second word of a sentence is a noun. For example, in the sentence “Mary went to the store”, “Mary” is a noun and the subject of the sentence. Regardless of where the name of a person or specific place appears in a sentence, it will be capitalized. This should help you determine where the nouns are in most typical sentences.

Nouns in conversational sentences

When you see quotation marks in printed text, it usually means that someone is speaking or quoting something else that was said or written. In particular, if you’re reading a work of fiction, quotation marks can help you identify the subject of the sentence. The person that is doing the speaking is usually named outside the quotes, while the subject of the sentence is found in what was said by the speaker.

How to determine which noun is the subject of a sentence

Consider a sentence such as, “Claudia went visit Mary in Ohio”. In this case, you have three nouns, Claudia, Mary, and Ohio. Even though Claudia is the topic of the sentence, you may need to do some work to arrive at that conclusion. Depending on your skill level in English, you may want to list all of the possibilities; even if you know they do not make sense.

To begin, as you may know, Ohio is a state, and therefore cannot visit Claudia or Mary. Since Ohio cannot take any action and is not being described, you can safely rule it out as the subject of the sentence. You can also apply the action and description rules to Mary and Claudia. As you can see, Claudia is the only one taking action in the sentence, and there is no additional information being given about Mary.

Even though nouns are a fundamental part of every sentence, identifying them and sorting out their meaning can be complicated. Unfortunately, even if you look in a dictionary and find out that a particular word is a noun, it may not help you to sort out the subject of the sentence. Therefore, you may have to try rephrasing sentences in order to see if you can come up with a meaning that fits the syntax and makes sense. Have patience – with time, identifying nouns in English will become second nature to you.