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Mastering the Mechanics: Nouns

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Mastering the Mechanics: Nouns

Last updated 5/31/2016


Visual: Walden University Writing Center logo is visible at the bottom of the screen along with a notepad and pencil background. “Walden University Writing Center. Your writing, grammar, and APA experts” appears in center of screen. Slide changes to background of dictionary page. A green text box appears which reads: "Mastering the Mechanics: Nouns."

Audio: Guitar music plays.


Visual: Slide changes to a slide titled "Nouns." The slide has a text box in the upper right corner with links to resources: and

The body of slide reads: "Person, place, or thing." Below that are two bullet points with additional information about nouns andon about nouns and examples:

  • "Proper or common. [Example 1]: My dog is named Wendy. [Example 2]: I am a student at Walden University."
  • "Singular or plural." Below this bullet point are word combinations that show singular and plural form.  There are arrows  a seen the pairings. The pairs are: "article, articles; book, books; crux, cruxes; theory, theories; syllabus, syllabi; criterion, criteria; datum, data; thesis, theses."

In a textbox at the bottom of the slide is the following text: "Tip: Use plural nouns when writing in general terms: Rather than this: A student should always try his or her best. Try this: Students should always try their best."

Audio: You probably heard this definition before that a noun is a person, place, or a thing. I want to highlight a few issues that can cause some problems in your writing. Now, there are two basic categories for nouns. Nouns can be proper. And a proper noun is a specific name, a specific name of a person of a country or a city or a language or company or an organization. All of these are examples of proper nouns. And proper nouns should be capitalized. And everything else that is not the specific name, is a common noun. These are more general items. If you take a look around your room right now, pretty much the majority of what you're going to see is a common noun: My computer, my desk, my pencil, my books, my book shelf-- all of those are common nouns. Concepts such as knowledge or business or money, all of those are common nouns. And so are fields of study such as science or academic words such as "bachelor's degree" or "master's degree." All of those are considered common nouns and should not be capitalized. So we have a couple sample sentences here. "My dog is named Wendy." and "I am a student at Walden University." So the words "dog" and "student" those are general words, right. They're not specific names, so those are common nouns and should not be capitalized. Whereas the words "Wendy" and "Walden University." those are names and should be capitalized. And APA does have some guidelines when it comes to what is considered a proper noun versus a common noun. So for help determining whether a noun should be proper or common, that is, for help determining whether or not to capitalize a word, check out our guide to APA capitalization nuances.

So there's one more distinction I want to bring up and that is that nouns can either be singular, which means there's one of them, or plural, which means there's more than one. Most nouns to make them plural, you just add an "s," an "es," or an "ies." I bring this up because there are quite a few irregular plural nouns, especially with scholarly writing, and I've listed a few of those here. For example, the word "syllabus," the plural of that word is not "syllabuses." It's "syllabi."


Visual:  As narrator says “syllabus” the word highlights. As narrator says “syllabi” the word highlights.

Audio: The word "criterion" is a singular noun, and the plural of that noun is "criteria."


Visual: “Criterion” and “criteria” highlight as narrator says each word.

Audio: The word "data" is actually a plural noun. The singular form of that is "datum." And then finally, the word "thesis," the plural of that word is “theses.”


Visual: As narrator says each word, it and then its plural form highlights.

Audio: And so I'll often see students make little errors with these irregular plural nouns, which is why I bring them up here. We have a link to a great resource on these irregular plural nouns. And one last tip when it comes to nouns and that is that when you're speaking in general terms, it's a good idea to stick to the plural. So for example, instead of saying [reading from slide] "a student should always try his or her best." That makes it sound like you're talking about one student. If you want to make it clear that you're making a generalization, it's better to stick to the plural, [reading from slide], "Students should always try their best."


Visual: Slide changes to notebook and pencil with Walden logo from first slide. Text reads: “Walden University Writing Center. Questions? E-mail"