Glossary of Linguistic Terms



A noun is a member of a syntactic class

  • that includes words which refer to people, places, things, ideas, or concepts
  • whose members may act as any of the following: subjects of the verb, objects of the verb, indirect object of the verb, or object of a preposition (or postposition), and
  • most of whose members have inherently determined grammatical gender (in languages which inflect for gender).

Nouns embody one of the most time-stable concepts in a language. As with verbs, however, this time-stability criterion defines only the prototypical nouns. Other, non-prototypical nouns must be identified by distributional similarities to prototypical nouns.


  • rock
  • tree
  • dog
  • person

These nouns are prototypical nouns in English because they are perceived as concrete, physical, compact entities which do not change significantly over time.

The following nouns are less prototypical because they represent concepts or items that are not perceived as staying the same for a long period of time, or are not concrete:

  • fist
  • beauty
Page/s: 33, 39–41
Source: Payne, T. 1997a

Payne, Thomas E. (1997) .Describing morphosyntax: A guide for field linguists. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Page/s: 808
Source: Mish 1991

Mish, Frederick (editor). 1991.Webster's ninth new collegiate dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. 1,564 pages. 0877795088; indexed 0877795096; deluxe 087779510X.

Page/s: 154
Source: Hartmann and Stork 1972

Hartmann, R.R.K., and F.C. Stork. 1972.Dictionary of language and linguistics. London: Applied Science.

Page/s: 51–52
Source: Givón 1984

Givón, T. 1984.Syntax: A functional-typological introduction. Volume I. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Page/s: 244
Source: Crystal 1980

Crystal, David. 1980.A first dictionary of linguistics and phonetics. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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