In Chapter 1 we talked of the distribution, the inflections and the meanings of words in general. In this chapter our subject-matter will be the distribution, the inflections and the meanings of nouns.
It is useful to make a distinction between common nouns like table, chair, water, man and poetry, and proper nouns like Veronica, William, Smith, Spain and Everest. For the present we will confine our attention to common nouns and postpone consideration of proper nouns until towards the end of the chapter.
To start with a few examples, here is a list of some very short sentences each containing a noun. The noun is printed in italics:
The dog barked
My garden was flooded
This drink is very bitter
A mistake has been made
Cows sit chewing
One of the surest ways of telling a noun is its ability to combine with words such as the, this, these, a, some, any, enough, etc. These words belong to a class called determiners; their structural job is to ‘determine’ the noun that follows them. Some determiners do this by identifying the noun and some do it by quantifying it. Figure 2 contains two lists. In A the nouns are identified and in B they are quantified.
The identifying determiners provide a positive answer to questions such as Which garden? Which employer? What excitement? The list of identifying determiners in column A of the figure is complete. The first group are personal determiners, because they refer to first, second or third person (see p. 29). The second group, this, that, these, those, are demonstrative determiners; and the remaining one, the, is the definite article.
It is also possible to have a noun by itself, without any determiner:
dogs, daffodils, excitement, butter