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Abstract Noun

Abstract nouns are nouns that refer to things that aren’t tangible, however, they allow us to express important meaning. These are nouns that your five senses cannot pick up, such as feelings, concepts and ideals. 

What is an abstract noun?

What are your favorite things in life? Things that you'd like to have in greater quantity over the next 12 months?

Could it be any of the following items that are tangible?

  • $100 bills
  • Indian food
  • smartphone apps
  • love
  • Levis 505 jeans

Yes? Well of those things, name the ones that you can interact with in a physical way; things that you could experience with your five senses; things that you could pick up into your hands and move from one house to another? 

The answers would be 1, 2, 3, and 5. Bills, food, apps, and jeans are all things that you can experience with the five senses; hence they're concrete nouns.

Love, on the other hand, is an abstract concept that exists in the mind, yet can't be smelled, photographed, devoured, listened to, or physically touched, moved, or contained. Therefore, love is an abstract noun.

Using abstract nouns correctly

In contrast to concrete nouns—which describe people, places, and things that you can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste—abstract nouns are "things" that only really exist as subjective concepts.

Abstract nouns fall into the following categories:

  • Attributes – beauty, greatness, bravery, courage, chivalry, trust
  • Emotions – love, hate, sorrow, happiness, embarrassment, jealousy, glee
  • Ideas – justice, truth, liberty, dogma
  • Movements – progress, leisure, relaxation
  • Quantities – time, space, value

In order to test whether a word is an abstract noun, see whether it can be replaced with a concrete noun.

The concrete noun test - Some examples

  • He has a lot of bravery (abstract)
  • He has a lot of clothing.
  • I need to work on my directness (abstract)
  • I need to work on my table.
  • She has great beauty, hygiene, and style (abstract)
  • She has great hair, makeup, and clothing.
  • The zoo should feature more entertainment, fun, and spectacle (abstract)
  • The zoo should feature more elephants, lions, and goats (while animals are considered animate nouns, they are still physical things and thus not abstract)

Practice exercise

Exercise: count the number of abstract nouns in the following paragraphs.

Ian had an idea that if he crammed two weeks' worth of homework assignments into a 48-hour period, he'd have 12 days of free time to engage in his favorite hobby. But after beating his goal by six hours, the exhaustion left him in a catatonic state for two weeks straight. Miranda had the desire to start vlogging about makeup, hair, and fashion, but realized that the market was sewn up by the competition. However, she noticed that most of those gurus were primarily focusing on contemporary style, so she set herself apart by making 50s and 80s chic her specialty.

Confusion can arise with abstract nouns when the same words are also used in verb form.

Spot the difference in the following examples.

  • I love Jane because of her love for animals.
  • I hate the KKK and the FRC because of the hate they direct at minorities.
  • The value of time is something that I value.
  • He failed to act when he saw her crying because he thought her pain was an act.
  • I won't back his candidacy, because I don't think he has my back as a modern, open-minded, environmentally conscious American.

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