A noun is a person, place, thing, concept, or idea. There are many types of nouns, including concrete and abstract nouns. Concrete nouns are people, places, or things that can be experienced by one of the five senses. Abstract nouns are concepts or ideas that a person cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell. Instead, abstract nouns are intangible concepts or ideas.
The word abstract refers to something that exists apart from concrete existence, which is why the term is used to describe nouns that can’t be directly perceived in a sensory way. It is sometimes helpful to think of an abstract noun as a word that names something that you cannot see, hear, touch, smell, or taste (i.e., something you cannot perceive with one of your five senses). For example: consideration, parenthood, belief, anger.
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 abstract nouns (e.g., I was in love; she felt loneliness) tells their readers little. For creative writers, the challenge is often to capture these abstract feelings using concrete nouns.
More Examples of Abstract Nouns
Here are some more examples of abstract nouns categorized under conceptual headings:
Feelings anxiety, fear, pleasure, stress, sympathy
States being, freedom, misery, chaos, luxury
Emotions anger, hate, joy, grief, sorrow
Qualities courage, patience, determination, generosity, honesty
Concepts charity, deceit, opportunity, comfort, democracy
Moments birthday, childhood, marriage, career, death
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 that 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.