The Basics: Nouns, Articles, and Pronouns

Happy October 1st! It’s the time of pumpkins, tea, sweaters, and fun–all of which are, coincidentally, nouns.

That’s right, folks, today we’re starting at the very beginning.  Before we can get to the really fun parts of grammar, first we have to make sure we’re all using the same language.

For the first couple posts, we’ll be talking about parts of speech.  After that, we’ll learn about parts of sentences.

Then we can dive into the REALLY fun stuff 🙂

…Not that parts of speech aren’t also exciting.

General Disclaimer: While I love grammar, I’m also new at learning it. I will do my best to explain things correctly. If you find that I’ve misunderstood or misrepresented something, please share that in the comments. Please do so kindly, though. The goal of this is for all of us to learn and become better writers, and people learn better from kindness than troll-ness.

An important note: A word’s part of speech is determined by how it relates to other words in a sentence. The same word may have different functions in different sentences. Take this example:

Now that that’s clarified (and if it’s not, ask me about it down in the comments), let’s get to the bread and butter, the foundation, the brick and mortar of language.

The noun.

(And some related parts of speech.)


Nouns

Nouns are probably the easiest part of speech to learn. They’re the first words in our vocabulary as children. My little nephew knows a ton of nouns, and that’s the only part of speech he knows.

Definition: A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea.

Nouns may be common (general terms for people, places, things, or ideas). We might talk about trees, apples, religions, or countries. Common nouns are always lower case.

Nouns may be proper (names of specific people, places, things, or ideas). We might talk about White Ash or Aspens, Golden Delicious or Granny Smith, Judaism or Shinto, Brazil or Vietnam. Proper nouns are always capitalized.

If you can point to it, it’s a noun. If you can have just this word on its own, it’s a noun. If you can put the words “a,” “an,” or “the” in front of it, it’s a noun.

Coincidentally, “a,” “an,” and “the” are part of the smallest group of words I know, and that group is called “articles.”

Articles

Definition: Articles are special descriptive words that often get tacked on in front of nouns.

There are literally only three words that are articles. These we divide into two categories: definite articles and indefinite articles.

Definite Article

The word “the” is a definite article. When we put “the” in front of a noun, it means we’re referring to a specific, definite noun or group of nouns. “The” means we’re talking about only one specific thing.

The pizza means we only have one pizza. This is sad, but at least we have specifics.

Indefinite Articles

“A” and “an,” on the other hand, don’t mean something specific.  We use these articles for nouns within a larger group.

A pizza means there are multiple pizzas in question, and we are fine with any of them.

Articles, be they definite or indefinite, slightly change or modify the noun in question. In grammar, we use that word modify a lot. It always means that a word or group of words is changing the meaning of another word, usually to make it more specific.

Articles are part of a broader category of modifiers that we use with nouns, and that broader category is called “adjectives”.

Adjectives

Have you ever seen a sunset (noun) and known that “sunset” doesn’t quite capture it? Did you add on the words “beautiful,” “vibrant,” “glowing,” etc.?

If so, you were using adjectives.

Definition: Adjectives are words that change the meaning of  or describe nouns by making them more specific.

Usually, adjectives go before a noun. Sometimes we put them later in the sentence:

My yellow sunflower

My sunflower was yellow.

Adjectives aren’t essential, but they can be helpful. If I was asking someone to grab me a book from the shelf, I have a much larger chance of getting the book I want if I use an adjective. The large book, the gilt book, the old book, the tiny book, and the burgundy book are all very different from each other, even though they use the same noun.

If this is still a bit confusing, give this Khan Academy video a watch. As an added tip, Khan Academy has excellent videos on all sorts of topics. If you’re eager to learn more about grammar faster than I can write, I urge you to check them out.

Now, sometimes we don’t want to be more specific about nouns, we want to be less specific. In that case, we use pronouns.

Pronouns

If we were to move from most to least specific ways of talking about people, places, and things, we’d start with proper nouns (Beth, Child of the Kaites), move to common nouns (woman, novel), and then go to pronouns (she/her, it).

Definition: Pronouns are words that stand in the place of nouns.

Using the same common or proper noun over and over gets boring and repetitive. We avoid this by using pronouns.

No pronouns: Kirsten read Kirsten’s book in Kirsten’s comfy chair.

With pronouns: She read her book in her comfy chair OR Kirsten read her book in her comfy chair.

Both second options are much kinder on the eyes.

We will get into this more later, but pronouns have something we call case. This basically means that we use different versions of pronouns depending on their role in the sentence. There can be a lot of confusion about pronouns, so we’ll definitely look more closely at them in the future. For now, here’s a very basic chart about the different cases:


There you have it. Today, we learned what a noun is, how articles and adjectives modify them, and what pronouns are.

Do you have questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

Did I get something wrong? Please [kindly] share the truth in the comments.

That’s all for today! Next month, we’ll be looking at verbs and parts of speech related to them.


Oh! Before I forget: I now have a newsletter! If you want news about upcoming stories as early as possible, go subscribe here. Subscribers get “The Lake of Living Water” and “Catam Chieftain” (prequel and follow-up short stories to Child of the Kaites) for free 🙂

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