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Concrete Nouns

We are surrounded by concrete nouns. Although you might think this is limited to objects and the like, it is not. Concrete nouns are a large category of noun, which together with the abstract noun can cover all forms of nouns. Concrete nouns are frequently described in order to create vivid imagery. 

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Concrete Nouns

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We are surrounded by concrete nouns. Although you might think this is limited to objects and the like, it is not. Concrete nouns are a large category of noun, which together with the abstract noun can cover all forms of nouns. Concrete nouns are frequently described in order to create vivid imagery.

Concrete Noun Definition

Although concrete nouns often come in the form of objects, this is not strictly the case. Here is an effective, testable definition for concrete noun:

Concrete nouns are forms of matter and energy.

This includes anything from people to objects to air to sound waves to light. The term “concrete” can trip people up, because it sounds very physical, as though only solids and liquids are concrete nouns. However, concrete nouns encompass anything in the scientifically quantifiable spectrum of things: in other words, all forms of matter and energy.

Nouns that are not concrete are abstract nouns.

Abstract nouns are nouns that are not forms of matter and energy.

These are emotions such as "love" and concepts such as "accountability."

Before we get into further distinguishing the two, it's important to understand all the forms that a concrete noun can take. This will provide a stronger point of reference for delving into the concrete vs. the abstract, which despite these clear definitions can get murky.

Types of Concrete Nouns

There are various kinds of concrete nouns, which can be clustered in a few subcategories.

Countable Nouns

Countable nouns can be counted directly. Examples include person, car, ball, and lamp.

There is one person, two cars, three balls, and four lamps.

Countable nouns do not have to be material things, however. They can be other forms of matter or energy and still be concrete.

This beaker contains two distinct gases.

Three lights shone from the pier.

I only heard one sound. Did you hear something besides those footsteps?

Uncountable Nouns

Uncountable nouns cannot be directly counted. Examples include luggage, water, money, and coffee. These nouns require other words in order to be counted.

An easy way to check if a noun is uncountable is to try to pluralize it. If it just doesn't work in a plural form, it's uncountable.

There is a piece of luggage in here.

It doesn't make sense to say there is a luggage in here or there are luggages in here.

The track team has forty gallons of water.

It doesn't make sense to say the track team has forty waters.

Concrete Nouns Water StudySmarterFig. 1 - Bottle it before you count it.

I haven’t seen the two stacks of money.

It doesn't make sense to say I haven't seen the two monies.

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns indicate groups of nouns. Examples include: team, cluster, family, and stack.

The team played well tonight.

The cluster of tables vibrated.

It was once a happy family.

This is a big stack of old CDs.

In American English, the collective noun generally agrees with a singular verb. This is because of the singular construction of collective nouns

The football team is really good.

Collective names for animals: Animals are grouped into some very interesting categories. Obviously, you will have heard of “flocks” and “herds,” but have you heard of a congress of ravens or a murder of crows? When playing with descriptions using collective nouns, explore some of these interesting words to describe groups of all kinds of things.

Proper Nouns

Finally, proper nouns are the proper names of people and places.

Ben Franklin just lept out of that time machine!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa should not have a rooftop restaurant, for obvious reasons.

Dusty is my pet cat.

Don’t Get Confused

Note, however, that all of these noun types can appear as abstract nouns as well. For instance, the word “idea,” which is not a form of matter or energy, is a counting noun (one, two, three ideas). To give another example, the Pythagorean theorem is a proper noun, as it is the name of something, yet it also is not a form of matter or energy.

The differences between concrete and abstract nouns are not always straightforward, so it is well worth the time to examine them in detail.

Concrete Nouns and Abstract Nouns

While concrete nouns are forms of matter and energy, abstract nouns are the inverse. Abstract nouns are nouns that are not forms of matter and energy.

Abstract nouns are not scientifically quantifiable, such as "fear." There is no scientific way to quantify “fear” into units, the way you can with solids, liquids, gases, and energy.

Virtually all concepts are abstract nouns. For example, “thought” is an abstract noun. On the other hand, brain waves are concrete nouns because they are themselves a form of matter or energy and can be detected by scientific equipment.

Distinguishing Concrete and Abstract Nouns

Some words can be both concrete and abstract. As such, whether a given noun is concrete or abstract might depend on the context.

Example 1

Is the underlined word a concrete noun or an abstract noun?

The railroad through her mind was long and dark.

Metaphors are tricky. In this example, although the “railroad” is obviously not real, it does functionally exist in the sentence as a concrete noun. Think of it this way. A railroad is not a concept on its own; it can only be employed as a concept through metaphor. Abstract nouns can and do exist independently from metaphor. Use this same process to break down a simile.

At the end of the day, terms like “concrete” and “abstract” exist to understand the rhetoric of the English language. Thus, 99 times out of 100, a close call will be determined by function rather than form. Rhetoric is more about “how” than “what.”

Example 2

Is the underlined word a concrete noun or an abstract noun?

The statistic frightened her.

Because a statistic is not a form of matter or energy, it is an abstract noun. Yes, the word "statistic" might be written somewhere, but what's frightening is the statistic as an idea, not the statistic as a sketch of graphite. Besides, this example contains no such context. Read into only what is written, not what you think is implied.

Concrete Nouns Statistic example StudySmarterFig. 2 - What does the noun really refer to?

Example 3

Is the underlined word a concrete noun or an abstract noun?

After what I went through that day, the rain was like a slap in the face.

Because a “slap” has no physical properties, it is an abstract noun. A slap is an action noun. Action nouns describe actions in the form of nouns. A “shout,” a “leap,” and a “lick” are all action nouns because they refer only to an action, not to any lasting physical presence. Action nouns include gerunds, which are verb-to-nouns ending in -ing such as my “asking,” the “dancing,” and your “sleeping.”

Any noun that refers to an action is an abstract noun.

Concrete Nouns - Key Takeaways

  • Concrete nouns are forms of matter and energy, while abstract nouns are conceptual.
  • Nouns can be countable, uncountable, collective, and proper.
  • If you can't decide if a noun is concrete or abstract, look at how it functions in the sentence.
  • Concrete things referred to in metaphor and simile are concrete nouns, despite not technically existing.
  • Action nouns, including gerunds, are abstract nouns.

Frequently Asked Questions about Concrete Nouns

Concrete nouns are forms of matter and energy.

Concrete nouns are forms of matter and energy. Abstract nouns are nouns that are not forms of matter and energy, such as ideas or conditions.

Usually concrete nouns, but they can be abstract depending on the context.

A ball, a light, a man, a sound, and a smile are concrete nouns. These are all real things that exist in the form of matter or energy.

They are not mutually exclusive. Concrete nouns are forms of matter and energy. Examples include: a ball, a light, a man, a sound, and a smile. Collective nouns indicate groups of nouns. Examples include: team, cluster, family, and stack. Collective nouns can be concrete, but also abstract depending on what they refer to.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

friendIs this a concrete or abstract noun?

friendIs this a countable, uncountable, collective, or proper noun?

friendshipIs this a concrete or abstract noun?

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