Abstract Nouns

Abstract Nouns

Abstract nouns refer to intangible things such as an emotion, a feeling, a quality or an idea. In other words, an abstract noun does not denote a physical object.

Easy Examples of Abstract Nouns

Abstract nouns for feelings: anxiety, fear, pleasure, stress, sympathy

Abstract nouns for states: being, freedom, misery, chaos, luxury

Abstract nouns for emotions: anger, hate, joy, grief, sorrow

Abstract nouns for qualities: courage, patience, determination, generosity, honesty

Abstract nouns for concepts:charity, deceit, opportunity, comfort, democracy

Abstract nouns for moments: birthday, childhood, marriage, career, death

More Examples of Abstract Nouns

It's helpful to think of an abstract noun as the opposite of a concrete noun. (A concrete noun refers to something you can perceive with one of your five senses, i.e., seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting.)
Example of an Abstract Noun (intangible)Example of a Concrete Noun(tangible)
Students regularly argue whether a noun is abstract or concrete – and with good reason. For example, the nouns love, dream and work are generally classified as abstract nouns, but it is easy to make cases for these being concrete nouns.

Be aware that classifying a noun as abstract or concrete may depend on context or even the classifier's definition of perceivable.
  • Working for Disney was a childhood dream come true. (American actress Brittany Curran)
  • (In this context, dream is an abstract noun with a meaning similar to hope.)
  • When I was a little kid, I used to have a vivid recurring dream about Captain Hook. (American actress Cristin Milioti)
  • (In this context, dream does not mean hope. Here, dream could be classified as a concrete noun, especially if you think a dream is perceived via your senses.)

Why Should I Care about Abstract Nouns?

Many creative writers (particularly poets), consider abstract nouns "the enemy". Even though abstract nouns cover many of the topics that poets like to address (e.g., love, loss, sadness, loneliness), poets know that using these words or their derivatives (e.g., I was in love; he was sad; she was lonely) tells their readers very little about their subjects. For poets, the challenge is often to capture these abstract feelings using concrete nouns.
  • …and my bicycle never leaned against the garage as it does today, all the dark blue speed drained out of it. (from "On Turning Ten" by American Poet Laureate Billy Collins)
  • (Here, Billy Collins uses concrete nouns to contemplate the abstract ideas of ageing and the loss of innocence.)
From a business-writing perspective, there is no good reason to learn about abstract nouns. However, as so many language courses cover this term, it may be worth learning about abstract nouns from a passing-your-course perspective.

Remember, a noun is labelled as concrete or abstract based on its meaning not its grammatical function. In other words, abstract nouns and concrete nouns operate the same way grammatically.

Take a Test on Abstract Nouns

Key Point

  • If writing a poem, consider expressing abstract ideas using concrete nouns.
  • If you're doing a language course that covers abstract nouns, then learn about them. If you're not and you're not a poet, then…meh.
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