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Animate Noun

An animate noun refers to a thing that is alive and sentient. For example, the noun "human" would be an animate noun, since people are clearly alive. On the other hand, the noun "time" would be an inanimate noun, since time is an abstract concept and not some kind of living creature.  

What is an animate noun?

When they declared that a noun is either a person, place, or thing, they were being unfair to animals. After all, animals are animate, just like humans, whereas places and things are inanimate. On that note, we arrive at the concept of animate nouns.

An animate noun is a sentient noun, which could only really be a person, animal, or fictional creature.

Do you follow so far? Okay, which of the following 10 nouns are animate nouns?

  • sports
  • kitten
  • Peru
  • elephantiasis
  • elephants
  • Bob
  • Canadians
  • grandma
  • teddy bear
  • the Senate

Answer: kitten, elephants, Bob, Canadians, and grandma are all animate nouns.

Practice exercise - finding animate nouns

How many animate nouns can you count in each consecutive sentence of the following paragraph?

Ana, who writes political essays for her college, travelled to Maryland last month to attend a political conference of one of the two major parties. She spoke with political figures, pundits, and other students to get their input on who would be the best candidate for the next general election. As she walked around the conference booths, however, she took offence at how certain hate groups were invited to co-sponsor the event, but LGBT activists, atheists, and drug-legalization advocates were barred from attending. 

If you've counted one, four, and three, you'd be correct. Ana, figures, pundits, students, activists, atheists, and advocates are all animate nouns. Nouns that refer to plural sentient entities are also known as collective nouns, a grouping that applies to all the animate nouns in the preceding sentence, except for Ana. 

In case you're wondering why students and pundits qualify, yet parties and groups don't—after all, they're all comprised of multiple people—consider this: a single person could be a student or pundit, but no person could be a political party or group. 

Additional information and practice exercises

In many languages, including English, existence is placed along a hierarchy of representation that generally runs in descending order like this: 1st person pronoun, 2nd person pronoun, 3rd person pronoun, animate noun, inanimate noun. In other words, me, you, her, Juan, and California.

To further test your understanding, count the number of animate nouns in the following examples:

1. The elephant claimed a lion's share of the attention among children at the zoo.

2. Betty, Bill, and Bruce are working to inform the members of their community college about getting defense preparation help through dissertation writing services from Ultius.

3. Terry declined Jimmy's offer to join the band, but recommended a singer named Robert for the part.

4. Instead of trying to paint themselves as victims, conservatives should be walking back their losing stance on this issue.

5. When is Meghan going to break away from her parents and admit on Rachel's show that she's one of us?

6. Reginald must have sensed that his name would not be marketable, so he adopted a stage name derived from two of his former bandmates: "Long" John and Elton.

Answers: 1. two (elephant, children); 2. four (Betty, Bill, Bruce, members); 3. four (Terry, Jimmy, singer, Robert); 4. two (victims, conservatives), 5. three (Meghan, parents, Rachel); 6. four (Reginald, bandmates, John, Elton). In the first sentence, lion didn't qualify because the world was used as a metaphor for "large."

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