Saturday, January 20, 2018

Form-class Word: Nouns

Form-Class Words

English grammar is traditionally described as having eight parts of speech:

·        Nouns
·        Verbs
·        Adjectives
·        Adverbs
·        Pronouns
·        Conjunctions
·        Prepositions
·        Interjections

But this traditional division into eight parts looks only at the function of the words, ignoring the form, and thus often leads the poor student of grammar into swamps of confusion.

Thus, modern descriptive grammars make a more precise distinction. They describe English grammar as having four parts of speech which belong to the form class. These are

·        Nouns
·        Verbs
·        Adjectives
·        Adverbs

The class is called the form class because all prototypical words in this class can change their forms by accepting derivational or inflectional morphemes.

Thus, take the form class noun cat. It accepts the pluralizing morpheme {s} and becomes cats.

Or take the form class adjective hungry, as in the hungry baby. It can take the comparative {er} and become hungrier. (Feed the hungrier baby first.)

Besides the form class, we also have the structure class, which contains determiners, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, and other words. We’ll deal with these later.


A noun is a word that meets at least a few of five necessary proofs (found on page 71 of your book)

        Formal proofs (that is, changes in form)

1.     Has a noun making morpheme, such as –ment, -ity, -tion, -ness
2.     Can take a plural morpheme {s}
3.     Can take the possessive morpheme {‘s}

Functional proofs (that is, how the word functions)

4.     Without the intervention of a modifier, directly follow an article
5.     Fits the frame sentence (That is, fits in the linguistic sentence created to “check” whether a word functions as a noun – in this case, this sentence: (The)____________ seem(s) all right.)

We can easily see that kitten is a noun. It passes most of the proofs – 2, 3, 4, and 5 to be specific – as do basement and Julie.

But take the words walk and singing. Walk can functions like a noun, and will pass some of the proofs: 2, 4 and 5.

        Every day his walks got longer.
I took a walk.
        The walk seems all right.

But you can’t really make walk possessive without some weirdness – the walk’s route led over the hill, maybe?

As for singing, that passes 5 and 4, but none of the rest.

Both walk and singing are examples of words that are functioning as nouns but which come from another form class – in this case, verbs. They are, that is, verbs which have shifted their function: they are verbs functioning in this sentence as nouns.

This, a functional shift, can and does happen often in English. It’s good to be able to recognize it, and it’s one of the main reasons we need to be able to distinguish between form and function when we’re looking at grammar.

Kinds of Nouns

Within the class of nouns, we have certain subclasses. The big division is between common and proper nouns.

Proper nouns: These are the names of specific people, places, or events: Mr. Obama; the French Rivera; Labor Day. These take capitals.

We’ll also capitalize titles, though only when they’re attached to the person. Thus, Captain Picard, or President Obama; but The captain is not on the ship, or The president serves a four year term.

When we take a noun, like France, or Germany, and make it into an adjective, this noun becomes known as a proper adjective, and should also be capitalized. Thus, we have German Chocolate cake, and French fries, and Boston crème pie. Also, you ride in a Ferris wheel, because the first one was built by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.

Common nouns: This is the class of common things, places, and persons. Common nouns can usually take an article – a kitten, the pie – unlike proper nouns, which usually don’t: Ivy, UAFS.

Common nouns are further broken down into count and non-count, as well as collective nouns.

Count/Non-count: Count nouns are the class of things that can be counted, like beans, or dogs, or airplanes.

Non-count is the class of things that can’t be counted, like oatmeal, or wind, or lumber. You can say six dogs; you can’t say six oatmeals, or six lumbers, or six winds. (You can say six bowls of oatmeal, or six stacks of lumber, but then you’re counting the bowls, and the stacks.)

        Six beans, two dogs, seventeen airplanes
        Some oatmeal, a lot of wind, enough lumber

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