Understanding the four main properties of nouns

In a previous post, I discussed the different types of nouns. Today’s post is about the main properties of nouns.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, nouns have four main properties:

  • Case
  • Number
  • Gender
  • Person

Case

Case refers to the relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and other words in a sentence. While there is some disagreement about whether there are two or three cases, you only need to concern yourself with two:

  • Normal = no apostrophe: The principal is in her office.
  • Possessive = apostrophe: This is the principal’s office.

Number

Number shows whether the noun refers to one object (fox, stick, candy) or more than one object (foxes, sticks, candies). Some nouns differ when describing one object (person) compared to more than one object (people).

Gender

Gender is not used as often in English as it is in other languages, such as French or Spanish, which have masculine and feminine accompanying articles. Other languages also refer to non-living things in the masculine or feminine, whereas English typically uses gender only for people and other living creatures.

Gender can be masculine (son), feminine (sister) or common (parent). In the masculine and feminine cases, a gender-appropriate pronoun can replace the noun (e.g., he for son, she for sister).

Many gender-specific nouns that refer to a person’s job or position have gender-neutral versions. For example:

  • Police officer instead of policeman / policewoman
  • Firefighter instead of fireman / firewoman
  • Flight attendant instead of steward / stewardess
  • Server / waitperson instead of waiter / waitress

Note: The English language is constantly being updated to address people who do not identify with either the masculine or feminine gender, or who are gender-fluid. I am not knowledgeable enough to cover this topic in proper detail. My goal is simply to explain the meaning of gender in the use of nouns.

Person

Person refers primarily to pronouns, but also applies to nouns used with pronouns. A noun or pronoun can be in the:

  • First person = the one doing the speaking: I, David, swear that…
  • Second person = the one being spoken to: Girls, you are being…
  • Third person = the one being spoken about: That car belongs to…

Do you have any questions about grammar? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

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