What is a Common Noun? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 What Is a Common Noun?
  • 0:59 Exceptions to the Rule
  • 1:40 Usage
  • 2:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

This lesson focuses on defining common nouns. In addition, the lesson provides examples and rules for capitalization and usage of common nouns and discusses the difference between common nouns and proper nouns.

What is a Common Noun?

A common noun is a non-specific person, place, or thing. A proper noun, on the other hand, is a specific person, place, or thing. The words dog, girl, and country are examples of common nouns. These words are non-specific nouns and can be referring to any dog, any girl, or any country. Proper nouns, however, are more specific. To be considered proper nouns, these words would have to name a particular dog, girl, and country. These same words as proper nouns would be specific names such as Spot, Mary, and Brazil.

Common nouns are usually not capitalized. Notice the common nouns in the following sentence:

My sister and her friend plan to ride their bikes to the movies.

The four common nouns in this sentence (sister, friend, bikes, movies) are not capitalized.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are two exceptions to be aware of when using common nouns:

First, when a common noun appears as the first word in a sentence, it is capitalized. For example, the word cities, which is a common noun, is capitalized in the following sentence only because it is the first word in the sentence:

  • Cities must budget carefully during times of economic difficulty.

The only other occasion for capitalizing a common noun is if it appears in a title. For example, the word dog is a common noun which would not ordinarily need to be capitalized. In the title My Dog Skip, however, the common noun dog is capitalized since this is the title of a book and a movie.

Usage

A common noun, like any other noun, can be used as the subject or the object of a sentence. A subject of a sentence is the one that the sentence is about - the subject is performing the action. The object of a sentence receives the action of the subject. For example, in the following sentence, a common noun is used as the subject:

  • The park offers a safe place for the children to play.

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