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THE NOUN. The Noun in Modern English has only two grammatical categories, number and case. The existence of case appears to be doubtful. The noun has not got the category of grammatical gender. NUMBER

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The Noun in Modern English has only two grammatical categories, number and case. The existence of case appears to be doubtful.

The noun has not got the category of grammatical gender.



Modern English, as most other languages, distinguishes between two numbers, singular and plural.

The opposition is "one - more than one": table­- tables, pupil- pupils, dog- dogs, etc.

The category of number in English nouns gives rise to several problems.


PluraliaTantum and SingulariaTantum

There are two types of nouns differing from all others in the way of number. The nouns which have only a plural and no singular are usually termed pluraliatantum (which is the Latin for plural only), and those which have only a singular and no plural are termed singulariatantum (the Latin for singular only).

Among the PluraliaTantum are the nouns trousers, scissors, tongs, pincers, breeches; environs, outskirts, dregs.


On the one hand, among the PluraliaTantum there are nouns which denote material objects consisting of two halves (trousers, scissors, etc.); on the other, there are those which denote a more or less indefinite plurality.

e. g. environs=areas surrounding some place on all sides; dregs =various small things remaining at the bottom of a vessel after the liquid has been poured out of it, etc.

In some cases English and Russian PluraliaTantum nouns correspond to each other (trousers - брюки, scissors - ножницы, envi­rons - окрестности, etc.), while in others they do not (деньги – money, etc.).


The direct opposite of PluraliaTantum is the SingulariaTan­tum, i.e. the nouns which have no plural form. Among these we must first note some nouns denoting material substance, such as milk, butter, quicksilver, etc., and also names of abstract notions, such as peace, usefulness, incongruity, etc.


Some nouns denoting substance, or material, may have a plural form, if they are used to denote either an object made of the mate­rial or a special kind of substance, or an object exhibiting the qual­ity denoted by the noun. Thus, the noun wine, milk, denotes a certain substance, but it has a plural form wines used to denote several special kinds of wine.


The noun iron (or quicksilver), denotes a metal, but it may be used in the plural if it denotes several objects made of that metal (irons - утюги).

The noun beauty (ugliness) denotes a certain quality presented in an object, but it may be used in the plural to denote objects exhibiting that quality, the beauties of nature; His daughters were all beauties.

This is called lexicalization of the plural number.


Here are some other examples:

authority authorities duty duties

cloth clothes talk talks

colourcolours power powers

custom customs work works

damage damages glass glasses

development developments

disturbance disturbances

direction directions

draught draughts


humanity humanities

picture the pictures


Collective Nouns and Nouns of Multitude

Certain nouns denoting groups of human beings (family, govern­ment, party, clergy, etc.) and also of animals (cattle, poultry, etc.) can be used in two different ways: either they are taken to denote the group as a whole, and in that case they are treated as singulars, and usually termed "collective nouns"; or else they are taken to denote the group as consisting of a certain number of individual human beings or animals, and in that case they are usually termed "nouns of multitude". My family is small.

My family are good speakers.

The cattle were grazing in the field.



The problem of case in Modern English nouns is one of the most vexed problems in English grammar. The views on the subject differ widely. The most usual view is that English nouns have two cases: a common case (father) and a genitive (or possessive) case (father's). Side by side with this view there are a number of other views, which can be roughly classified into two main groups:

(1) the number of cases in English is more than two,

(2) there are no cases at all in English nouns….


Case expresses relations between the thing denoted by the noun and other things, properties, actions, and mani­fested by some formal sign in the noun itself. It is obvious that the minimum number of cases in a given language system is two, since the existence of two correlated elements at least is needed to establish a category.


From this angle, no cases expressed by non-morpholo­gical means can be recognised. It will be therefore impossible to accept the theories that case may also be expressed by prepositions (i.e. by the phrase "preposition + noun") or by word order. Such views have indeed been propounded by some scholars, mainly Ger­mans.

Thus, it is the view of Max Deutschbein that Modern Eng­lish nouns have four cases, viz. nominative, genitive, dative and accusative, of which the genitive can be expressed by the -'s inflection and by the preposition of, the dative by the preposition to and also by word order, and the accusative is distinguished from the dative by word order alone.


If prepositions, or word order, or any non-morphological means of expressing case are admitted, the number of cases is bound to grow indefinitely. Thus, if we admit that of the pen is a genitive case, and to the pen a dative case, there would seem no reason to deny that with the pen is an instrumental case, in the pen a locative case, etc.

Thus the number of cases in Modern English nouns would become indefi­nitely large. This indeed is the conclusion Academician I.I.Meshchaninov arrived at.


Thus, the number of cases in Modern English nouns cannot be more than two (father and father's). The latter form, father's, might be allowed to retail its traditional name of genitive case, while the former (father) maybe termed common case, first used by Henry Sweet. Of course it must be borne in mind that the possibility of forming the genitive, acc. to Prof. Ilyish, is mainly limited to a certain class of English nouns, viz. those which denote living beings (my father's room, George's sister, the dog's head) and units of time (a week's absence, this year's elections), and also some substantivized adverbs (to-day’s newspaper, yesterday's news, etc.).


The following views have been put forward on -’s as a case inflection in nouns:

(1) when the -'s belongs to a noun it is still the genitive ending, and when it belongs to a phrase (nobody else’s business, Smith and Brown’s office) (including the phrase "noun + attributive clause") it tends to become a syntactical ele­ment, viz, a postposition,

Ex: The blonde I had been dancing with’s name was Bernice something – Crabs or Krebs. /Salinger/;

(2) since the -'s can belong to a phrase it is no longer a case inflection even when it belongs to a single noun;

(3) the -'s when belonging to a noun, no longer expresses a case, but a new grammatical category; viz. the category of "possession".


Prof. Ilyish concludes that the original case system in the English nouns is at present extinct, and the only case ending to survive in the modern lan­guage has developed into an element of a different character­ - possibly a particle denoting possession….

The point of view we’ll stick to is that there are 2 cases in English nouns.



Gender is a less important category in English than in any other languages. It is closely tied to the sex of the referent and is chiefly reflected in co-occurrence patterns with respect to singular personal pronouns and corresponding possessive and reflexive forms.


Although there is nothing in the grammatical form of a noun which reveals its gender, there are lexical means of making gender explicit, and reference with a third person singular pronoun may make it apparent.

However, gender is not a simple reflection of reality; rather it is to some extent a matter of convention and speaker’s choice, and special strategies may be used to avoid gender-specific reference at all.


The following lexical means make gender explicit.

  • There are lexical pairs with male-female denotation, chiefly among words for family relationships (father-mother, uncle-aunt, etc), social roles (king-queen, lord-lady, etc.), and animals (bull-cow, cock-hen, etc).
  • The masculine-feminine distinction may also be made explicit by formal markers:
  • by separate words, that is lexically: male nurse, a female officer, an Englishman, a policewoman,
  • by special morphemes, that is morphologically: actress, tigress, usherette, proprietrix, heroine)

First, and most importantly, this skewed distribution reflects societal differences in the typical roles of men and women, where men still hold more positions of power and authority than women. Related to this difference, there is some evidence that speakers and writers simply make reference to men more often than women.

Second, the differences in language use reflect a linguistic bias, because masculine terms can often be used as duals, to refer to both men and women, but not vice versa.


The most common nouns ending in –ess or –er/or are princess – prince, actress-actor, mistress-mister, duchess-duke, waitress-waiter, countess-count, goddess-god, hostess-host, stewardess-steward. It is worth noting that the uniquely feminine terms tend to refer to social roles of smaller status than most masculine terms.


Thus, 5 of the 7 feminine words with no masculine equivalent have meanings that are derogatory or denote menial social roles: beggarwoman, charwoman, ghostwoman, slavewoman, sweeperwoman. In addition, many of the terms in feminine / masculine word pairs are not in fact equivalent. Instead, the feminine term often denotes a lesser social role or something with a negative overtone compared with the masculine term: spinster bachelor

governess governor

mayoress(the wife of a mayor) mayor

mistress master