People new to the study of karate often beat black belts in fights. How is it that a complete beginner to martial arts can beat an expert with years of experience? Is this result a freak occurrence or something more logical?


Practice makes perfect. But the moment practice is stopped, it puts perfect’s existence in jeopardy. You may practice something for 20 years, but without perseverance, you will become rusty and the most important knowledge is quickly forgotten.


Take the humble noun. Most people understand the idea of a noun, but many do not understand how it works. When I was 20, I studied German in university. The teacher wanted to make sure that all her students understood what a noun was. She asked any student who did not know what a noun was to please put their hand up. Not one student put their hand up, but in the following hour it became very clear that 30 percent of the class had no idea what a noun was.


A noun is a word which describes a: thing, people, substances, ideas, and emotions. Nouns are the building blocks of a language and are always taught first.


When I worked at a Japanese school, the teachers would show beginner students pictures of nouns: apples, people, emotions, and ideas. The students were encouraged to repeat the nouns until they had a collection of the most popular nouns in the Japanese language. In later lessons, the Japanese teachers would connect the nouns to verbs, which would allow them to make Japanese sentences.


Nouns are placed into two separate categories. There is the common noun, which indicates an item that is not specific – such as a country. There are many countries in the world. If you are not naming a particular country, then the common noun “country” is used.


We use proper nouns to name a specific person or place. For instance, when using the word “Thailand”, we are naming a definite country and are therefore using a proper noun. The same would apply to the word “presidents”. This is a common noun as it does not relate to one specific president. By naming a president such as Barack Obama, we are using a name and are therefore using a proper noun. Please see the list below for some more examples:


Common Nouns

Proper Nouns

prime ministers

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

foreign currencies

The Japanese yen


The Bering Sea


An Aston Martin


As they are usually specific to one place, person, or idea, proper nouns are seldom referred to in the plural form. Common nouns are very differently used in plural form. Many common nouns are turned into plurals by adding an “s” to the end of the word. Please see the examples below:


  • Car - Cars
  • Phone - Phones
  • Chair - Chairs
  • House - Houses


There are always exceptions to rules, however, and it would be worth your while to learn the following different endings when using plurals:


1. If the noun ends in y and y has been preceded by a consonant, the noun must remove its final letter and be changed into an ies ending:

  • Country - Countries
  • Pharmacy - Pharmacies


2. If the noun ends in a y but there is a vowel before the y, then simply add an s to the end of a noun:

  • Monkey - Monkeys
  • Key - Keys


There are many other rules to making a noun plural. If in any doubt, use an English dictionary to check the plural.


Take heart in the fact that there are some nouns that many English native speakers are confused by, when selecting the singular or plural. Two of the most common are “dice” and “phenomenon.”


“Dice” is actually the plural of the noun “die”. Although most people now use “dice” for the singular or the plural.


“Phenomenon” is actually the singular, and “phenomena” is the plural of “phenomenon”. Many seasoned journalists have often made the mistake of confusing the two. Even professional writers should always have a dictionary at hand to avoid making embarrassing mistakes.



Made of concrete or abstract?


Nouns which are naming an item which is material and can be touched or felt in the real world are known as concrete nouns. Nouns which represent ideas and emotions which cannot be touched, felt, or seen in the real world are known as abstract nouns. Some examples of the differences are shown below:


Concrete Nouns

Abstract Nouns






Next year


Abstract nouns are usually things which cannot be counted; while most concrete nouns can be counted. Again, there are exceptions to rules, so check your dictionary if in doubt.



Irregular Nouns


The biggest exceptions to the rule when turning a singular noun into a plural noun are irregular nouns. There is no set pattern to their usage, and they must be learned by heart. Many are used daily and will be easy to remember, but some are used less frequently and will need to be committed to memory. See below for a short list of examples:

  • Man - Men
  • Medium - Media
  • Foot - Feet
  • Mouse - Mice
  • Cactus - Cacti
  • Crisis - Crises



The ten most commonly used nouns in English


If you want to boost your English language skills, then try to learn as many nouns as you can. You can start by looking at the ten most oftenly used nouns in English. Then search the Internet for the 100 most used, and then graduate to 1000.


The ten nouns below are used most often, and the list may surprise you. I was surprised to see the noun “world” on the list. Perhaps this suggests English people are more outward looking than people seem to think?


  1. Time
  2. Person
  3. Year
  4. Way
  5. Day
  6. Thing
  7. Man
  8. World
  9. Life
  10. Hand


Never neglect to revisit the basics of a language. In most textbooks on studying English, nouns have a dedicated and often short chapter in the book. There is more to the English noun than most people would realise. The more nouns you acquire, the easier your interaction with English speaking people will be. As an example, by studying the English nouns for parts of the body, it will be easier to get medical treatment while on holiday in England.


Please also remember there is no feminine or masculine when using English nouns, which makes them more accessible than nouns in other languages.


Hero image by WonHo Sung (CC0 1.0)