Concrete nouns

What is a concrete noun?

Concrete nouns are experienced through the five physical senses: ice cream is tasted; perfume is smelt; sunshine is seen; a buzz is heard; and foam is touched. If you can’t smell it, taste it, touch it, hear it or see it, it is not a concrete noun.

If it’s not a concrete noun, then it’s an abstract one. Abstract nouns cover a wide range of different classifications, the boundaries between which can be blurred: emotions (happiness), qualities (honesty), events (lunch break), etc. You might argue that you can feel happiness, maybe even see it in the faces of small children, but unless you can experience the noun with at least one of the five physical senses, it’s abstract.

For example, in the sentence Dave felt time pass slowly as he watched the clock, clock is the only concrete noun and time the abstract, even though Dave feels it pass.

It is worth remembering that the distinction between concrete and abstract can be a little cloudy at times. Many writers insist that good writing uses concrete nouns to support the abstract, and poetry too works from unravelling the concrete noun to allow it to blossom into all manner of abstract symbolism. Abstract nouns will tend towards vagueness, as no two people will imagine success or failure in the same way; however, concrete nouns will bring a sharper, more vivid sense, as though you can actually smell or taste the words.

When people tell you that blood is thicker than water, it isn’t just a comparison of the viscosity of two different liquids, it also represents family ties. Blood in the sense of shared genes sees the same word used as an abstract noun.

Concrete nouns can include proper nouns (Old Trafford), collective nouns (hive), compound nouns (goalkeeper), common nouns (shovel), countable nouns (jug), and uncountable nouns (milk). They probably form the majority of naming words.

What is a concrete noun? There must be a million of them, but noun isn’t one.

Examples of concrete nouns

concrete abstract
concrete resilience
dog loyalty
galaxy infinity
wound apology
tree spring (the season)
Smile cheerfulness
ball cricket (the sport)
school failure
music fame
clock hour
Moonlight magic