Let’s take a closer look at the subject of the clause. Simple subjects or key words within complete subjects are nouns, pronouns, or noun substitutes. The key word might be a single noun, a single pronoun, or a combination of the two.


You might remember that a noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea. In this definition, the word thing means a concrete noun, something you can touch or experience through one of the senses, and the word idea means an abstract noun, something that you can’t touch, something intangible.

These nouns are arranged in their respective groups:

As you can see, nouns can be singular (one) or plural (more than one). Some are capitalized, and some are not.

1. The Noun-Marker Test

All of the listed nouns, except the capitalized ones, can follow the words a, an, or the, which are called noun markers, because they signal or “mark” the appearance of a noun. For instance, you can say an accountant, the kitchen, the butter, and a success. But you cannot get the same sense of completeness by saying a beautiful or the scary, because beautiful and scary are adjectives, not nouns.

2. The Subject Test for Nouns

Another way to see if a word is a noun is to try to use it as the subject of a sentence. If a word can be used in this way, it’s either a noun or a pronoun.

Let’s say, for instance, that we want to see if decorate and decoration are nouns. We can try each as the subject of a sentence:

(a) The decorate lit up the room.

(b) The decoration lit up the room.

This test quickly shows us that decoration is a noun but decorate is not. If you need to practice identifying nouns, try the next exercise.

Exercise 1.3

In each of the following pairs, one word is a noun and one is not. Use the noun-marker test or the subject test to decide which one is the noun. Then circle the noun in each pair.

1. begin, beginning

2. prediction, predict

3. organization, organize

4. liar, lied

5. gently, gentleness

6. decide, decision

7. allow, allowance

8. reliability, rely

9. collection, collect

10. defy, defiance

Most of the nouns in Exercise 1.3 are idea nouns; they’re abstract. Notice how often they have the same word endings. Here are five common noun suffixes: -ance, -ity, -ment, -ness, and -tion.