Abstract nouns

What is an abstract noun?

It’s easy to start prescribing nouns for objects and entities that you can smell, point at or otherwise sense, but what about those ideas and entities that do not exist on our material plane? This is where abstract nouns come to the rescue.

Abstract nouns describe everything outside our five physical senses, including emotions (fear), states (health) and attributes (honesty), concepts (freedom), events (education), etc. They can often be identified by a variety of word endings that have been used to turn other words into abstract nouns, including –tia, –ism, –ness, –dom,  –ment, –ance, –ence, -ity, –age, and –ship.

It can be difficult sometimes to identify whether a word is being used as a verb or an abstract noun. For example, in this short paragraph, love fulfils both roles.

I love (verb) my husband. My love (abstract noun) for him is boundless as an ocean.

Writing coaches often recommend that we should use concrete nouns to support abstract nouns in our texts, as abstract nouns are often open to widely different interpretations. What is love? is a question that has reverberated through the ages: what is dog?, not so much.

You could argue that there are abstract qualities contained within concrete nouns. Cat means more than just the domesticated quadruped that traditionally chases rodents, for example. Is time a purely abstract concept or is it something we can sense? However, this is not the page for arguments of that philosophical nature: you want that other page down the corridor.

Most agree, however, that the line between abstract and concrete nouns is blurry – even in terms of music. (A bit of music appreciation humour, there.) If someone flashes their poetic licence, they could take the all too concrete blood that you can taste, smell, see and even hear (pumping in your ears) and turn it into an abstract noun invoking family bonds and tribal sensibilities.

Even in a less poetic way of speaking, someone can admire your chutzpah (no jokes, please) or be touched by your integrity.

What is an abstract noun? Something that cannot be appreciated by any of the five senses. Except when it can.

Examples of abstract nouns

Several of the examples could arguably fall under a different classification, but, even here, demarcation is difficult.

Emotion Quality Concept Event
Anger Bravery Justice Education
Lust Skill Humour Marriage
Shame Accuracy Luck Childhood
Pride Cruelty Happenstance Gossip
Ambiguity Awesomeness Austerity Revolution