Parts of Speech: Nouns and Pronouns

A noun is the name of a person, animal, place, thing or an abstract concept. So what does this mean for your writing? Let’s think about it. Nouns are typically the object of any given sentence. Without them, much of what we say and write would lose its meaning. Take the sentence, “the brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” Remove the nouns, and you’re left with, “the brown ___ jumped over the lazy ___.”

Not very informative, is it? The speaker could be talking about a lazy horse and a brown log for all you know …and you wouldn’t know.

That is the importance of nouns. They are subjects; elements of life and Planet Earth that we have a need to speak or write about. You can usually get rid of an adverb or adjective without making the sentence unintelligible, but you can’t scrap the nouns without scrapping the sentence altogether.

I guess you may wonder about a sentence like this: “Well, she said I should go with you.” Where are the nouns?

They’re missing alright, but they’ve been replaced. You see, we term the names of people, (such as John, Mary, Diego or Mohammed) proper nouns, which are nouns that refer to specific people, places or things. Their first letters are always capitalized, even if they appear in the middle of a sentence. If you’re writing a story, report or some other piece that refers to the name of a person (or persons) several times, you will find that the repetition will drive you insane very quickly.

For example, consider the following report:

“About halfway through the meeting, Joyce stood up and began Joyce’s presentation of the statistical data that Joyce had collected over the past week. While speaking, Joyce was interrupted by Todd’s late arrival, and although Todd took Todd’s seat as quickly as possible, Joyce was annoyed by Todd’s tardiness and Joyce proceeded to scold Todd about Todd’s alarming habit of arriving at least half an hour late to every one of Mario’s meetings. Mario soon became irritated by Joyce’s inappropriate timing and proceeded to announce Mario’s displeasure at Joyce’s decision to carry out disciplinary measures at that particular time. At this, Joyce took offence, as it seemed to Joyce that Mario’s objection was an indirect endorsement of Todd’s unacceptable behavior.”

In the reading you just read, all the nouns have been left in place, but it sure made the report a difficult one to read. This is where pronouns come in, which are words that take the place of a noun, while still allowing the sentence to retain enough of its meaning to be meaningful. Typical pronouns include: he, she, it, him, her, his, hers, they, and we.

Let’s see how this works by repairing that report:

“About halfway through the meeting, Joyce stood up and began her presentation of the statistical data that she had collected over the past week. While speaking, Joyce was interrupted by Todd’s late arrival, and although Todd took his seat as quickly as possible, Joyce was annoyed by his tardiness and she proceeded to scold him about his alarming habit of arriving at least half an hour late to every one of Mario’s meetings. Mario soon became irritated by Joyce’s inappropriate timing and proceeded to announce his displeasure at her decision to carry out disciplinary measures at that particular time. At this, Joyce took offence, as it seemed to her that Mario’s objection was an indirect endorsement of Todd’s unacceptable behavior.”

Ah. Isn’t that much better? We didn’t replace every proper noun, as that would leave us clueless as to who “he” and “she” actually is in any given sentence, but we did replace enough of them to make the report easy to read and follow, without obscuring meaning.

There are a few “regular” nouns in that report as well. As mentioned earlier, we know that a noun is a person, place, thing, animal or abstract concept. Some of the nouns in the report (besides the names of people) include: meeting (concept), presentation (thing), data (thing), week (thing), tardiness (concept). If the report had mentioned the meeting place as being on 4th Street, or in the state of Massachusetts, both the street name and the state name would be considered nouns–places.

Nouns are an indispensable part of language, as they are the beings, objects and ideas that we have to talk about. When their “proper” counterparts begin to get too repetitive, however, they can be replaced with pronouns to make reading and comprehension a lot easier. Alone, they have a perfectly clear meaning, and they are what makes language arts and grammar (the process of coupling them with the right conjunctions, prepositions and other parts of speech) necessary.