Noun Signals

Tips to Easily Identify Nouns

Noun Signals can help us to identify nouns in our writings.

Common nouns signals in English language include the following:

1.   Determiners

A determiner is a short word that signals the approach of a noun. DeterminersOpens in new window are typically (though not always) the little word immediately before the noun.

The most common form of determiners are:

These are commonly known as articlesOpens in new window. However, there are others, as outlined below, which are also important to recognize.

Determiners in English Grammar.
a this several one, two, three, etc.
an these some no
the that many every
those few each

When any of these words are used to describe, modify or limit a word that follows, generally that word is a noun. Each of these words are practically exemplified in the following sentences.

Example Sentences

2.   Capital Letters

In English grammar, certain words are often used in a capitalized form; many of such words are nouns. However, most capitalized words—such as the first word in a sentence, or significant word denoting titles, or those words that are related to languages, nationalities, or people—may not be nouns.

Although, majority of capitalized words in a sentence are nouns known as proper nounsOpens in new window. There are other nouns, known as common nounsOpens in new window, which are not necessarily capitalized.

3.   Inflection

In English grammar, inflectionOpens in new window means the change in the form of a word—usually the addition of endings—to show or signal properties such as tenseOpens in new window, person, numberOpens in new window, genderOpens in new window, mood, voiceOpens in new window, and caseOpens in new window.

Nouns are inflected in numberOpens in new window (singular or plural), and caseOpens in new window (a subject of a sentence is spelled differently than a noun marking possession or ownership).

Example of this inflection is shown in the following sentence.

Example Sentences
  • I collected a gift from my father.
  • Note that there are two nouns (bolded), and two pronouns (underlined) in this sentence. Looking closely, you will notice what happens to the nouns in the next sentence:

  • I collected my father’s gifts.

Now, looking back at the first sentence, we notice there are two nouns, which are gift and father; and two pronouns (I and my). However, in the second sentence, the noun father is inflected into father’s to show possession.

We also notice the noun gift (in the first sentence) changed in the second sentence into gifts to show plural number.

This change in the spelling of a word to show or signal properties such as caseOpens in new window or numberOpens in new window is known as inflectionOpens in new window.

How nouns change spellings to show ownership is known as the possessive caseOpens in new window. Nouns generally change to show number, which is either singular—referring to one or plural—referring to more than one.

4.   Preposition

The preposition, another prominent noun signal, by definition, always precedes a noun in sentences because the preposition’s job is to show that noun’s position in time, direction, or space.

The prepositionOpens in new window combined with at least the noun that follows is known as a prepositional phraseOpens in new window.

Preposition takes prominent role in English grammar. It will greatly benefit us in further studies of English grammar by learning quickly ways that preposition(s) can signal the approach of a noun in sentences.

Example Sentences
  1. He played across the street.
  2. The dog by the lawn was barking.
  3. She drove to the library near the school after the examination.

Observation of the sentences above:

Notice how in sentence 1, the preposition “across” signals the location or direction of the action of the sentence (he played) relative to the noun street and answers the question “He plays where?”

Important Hint 

Prepositional phrases Opens in new window commonly answer the questions “Why?”, “Where?”, “When?”, or the question “How?”. These are all known as adverbial prepositional phrases

Notice in sentence (2), the preposition, “by”, signals the position in space of the noun, lawn, relative to the dog. Now, by stating that the dog is the one by the lawn, the author simply tells us the particular dog that was barking.

The question “Which one” is often answered by locating the specific thing in space.

In this particular sentence, the author is talking about the dog by the lawn; not the one in the gym, on the sofa, or the one under the truck.

Important Hint 

Prepositional phrases Opens in new window commonly answer the questions “Which one?”, “What kind?”, “How many?”, or the question “How much?”. These are all known as adjectival or adjective prepositional phrases.

Now, looking back at sentence (3), the proposition to signals the direction that she is driving, relative to the object of the preposition library. It answers the question “Where?”

The preposition near identifies the library relative to the object of the preposition school.

The preposition after shows the time of the trip to the library, relative to the time of the object of the preposition examination. The prepositional phrase answers the question “When?”

A preposition is a prominent signal for nouns, especially on the basis that it always needs to have a noun or pronoun to relate to the rest of the sentence through position in time, direction, or space.

You may need to watch out though—as it’s not always the case that a preposition would come before a noun. It is often not the word immediately preceding a noun.

There will often be a determiner Opens in new window in the prepositional phrase Opens in new window between the preposition that begins the phrase and the noun or pronoun that ends the phrase.

Below are a list of some prepositions.

List of Prepositions
above about after agaisnt
among at as before
between beyond during down
except for in inside
into like near of
onto out outside since
unless until with without
across by within off
under to from