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Questions to be discussed:


1. The noun as a part of speech

2. Types of the noun combinability.

3. The grammatical categories of English nouns:

a) the category of gender;

b) the category of number: Absolute singular. Absolute plural;

c) the category of case. Theories of cases.


The noun as a part of speech has the categorical meaning of “substance” or “thingness”.

The categorical functional properties of the noun are determined by its semantic properties. The most characteristic substantive function of the noun is that of the subject of the sentence. The function of the object is also typical of the noun as the substance word. Its other syntactic functions (attributive, adverbial and predicative) are performed with equal ease but are not the characteristic of its substantive quality. While performing the non-substantive functions, the noun essentially differs from the other parts of speech because of the transformations as a result of which the noun from various non-subject syntactic positions can be shifted into subject syntactic positions of the same general semantic value.

e.g. Mary is a flower-girl.

The flower-girl is Mary.

He lives in Glasgow.

Glasgow is his place of residence.

This happened three years ago.

Three years have elapsed since it happened.

The noun is characterized by some special types of combinability:

a) the prepositional combinability with another noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb:

e.g. an entrance to the house; to turn round the corner; red in the face; far from its destination;

b) the casal (possessive) combinability of the noun with another noun:

e.g. the speech of the President – the President’s speech;

the cover of the book – the book’s cover

c) combinability of the noun with another noun where the noun in preposition plays the role of a semantic qualifier to the noun in post-position:

e.g. a cannon ball; a sports event; film festival.

As a part of speech, the noun is also characterized by a set of formal features. It has its word-building distinctions, including typical suffixes, compound stem models, conversion patterns. It discriminates the grammatical categories of gender, number, case, article determination.


These formal features are relevant for the division of the nouns into several strictly delimited subclasses which are grouped into four oppositional pairs:

1. Proper and common nouns (the foundation of this division is type of “nomination”).

2. Animate and inanimate (“the form of existence”).

3. Human and non-human (“personal quality”).

4. Countable and uncountable (“quantitative structure”).

Somewhat less explicitly and strictly realized is the division of English nouns into concrete and abstract.


The category of gender is expressed in English by the obligatory correlations of nouns with the personal pronouns of the 3rd person. These are specific gender classifiers of nouns.

The category of gender is strictly oppositional. It is formed by two oppositions related to each other on a hierarchical basis:

- one opposition functions in the whole set of nouns, dividing them into person (human) nouns and non-person (non-human) nouns;

- the other opposition functions in the subset of person nouns only, dividing them into masculine and feminine.

Thus, the first, general opposition can be referred to as the upper opposition in the category f gender, while the second - partial opposition - can be referred to as the lower opposition in this category.


As a result of the double oppositional correlation, a specific system of three genders arises:

- the neuter (i.e. non-person) gender,

- the masculine gender,

- the feminine gender.

The strong member of the upper opposition is the human subclass of nouns, its mark being “person” or “personality”. The weak member of the opposition comprises both inanimate and animate non-person nouns. Here belong such nouns as: tree, mountain, love; cat, swallow, ant; society, crowd, association; bull and cow, cock and hen.

In cases of oppositional reduction, non-person nouns and their substitute (it) are used in the position of neutralization:

e.g. Suddenly something moved in the darkness ahead of us. Could it be a man, in this desolate place, at this time of night?

The strong member of the lower opposition is the feminine subclass of person nouns, its mark being “female sex”. Here belong such nouns as: woman, girl, mother, bride, etc.

The weak member of the opposition is the masculine subclass of person nouns. Here belong such nouns as: man, boy, father, bridegroom, etc.

A great many person nouns in English are capable of expressing both feminine and masculine person genders by way of the pronominal correlation in question. These are referred to as nouns of the “common gender”. Here belong such words as: person, parent, cousin, doctor, president, etc.

The capability of expressing both genders makes the gender distinctions in the nouns of the common gender into a variable category. But when there is no need to indicate the sex of the person referents of these nouns, they are used neutrally as masculine.

Alongside of the grammatical gender distinctions, English nouns can show the sex of their referents lexically, either by means of being combined with certain notional words used as sex indicators, or by suffixal derivation:

e.g. boy-friend, girl-friend;

man-producer, woman-producer;

landlord, landlady;

he-bear, she-bear;

actor-actress, etc.

The referents of such nouns as lenny-ass or pea-hen or the like are represented as it and so are the corresponding masculine nouns jack-ass, pea-cock and the like. This kind of representation is different from corresponding representation of such nounal pairs as woman-man, sister-brother, etc.

On the other hand, when the pronominal relation of the non-person animate nouns is turned into he/she, we can speak of a grammatical personifying transposition, which is very typical of English. This kind of transposition affects not only animate nouns, but also a wide range of inanimate nouns. The names of countries, vehicles, weaker animals, etc. are referred to as she. The names of stronger animals, the names of phenomena suggesting crude strength and fierceness are referred to as he.


The category of number is expressed by the opposition of the plural form of the noun to the singular form. The strong member of this binary opposition is the plural, its productive formal mark being the suffix – (e)s / -z, -s, -iz / as in the forms dog- dogs, clock – clocks, box – boxes. The productive formal mark correlates with the absence of the number suffix in the singular form of the noun. Thus, it is possible to speak about the zero suffix of the singular in English.

The other, non-productive ways of expressing the number oppositions are:

- vowel interchange in several archaic forms: man- woman, tooth – teeth;

- the archaic suffix –(e)n supported by phonemic interchange in a couple of other archaic forms: ox – oxen, child – children, brother – brethren;

- the correlation of individual singular and plural suffixes in a limited number of borrowed nouns: formula – formulae, phenomenon- phenomena.

In some cases the plural form of the noun is homonymous with the singular form: sheep, deer, fish.

The most general quantitative characteristics of individual words constitute the lexico-grammatical base for dividing the nounal vocabulary as a whole into countable nouns and uncountable nouns.

Uncountable nouns are treated grammatically as either singular or plural. Namely, the singular uncountable nouns are modified by the quantifiers much/little and they take the finite verb in the singular, while the plural uncountable nouns take the finite verb in the plural.

The two subclasses of uncountable nouns are usually referred to as:

- singularia tantum (only singular),

- pluralia tantum (only plural).

Since the grammatical form of the uncountable nouns of the singularia tantum is not excluded from the category of number, it is possible to speak of it as the “absolute singular”, as different from the “common singular” of the countable nouns. The absolute singular excludes the use of the modifying numeral one, as well as the indefinite article.

The absolute singular is characteristic of the names of:

- abstract notions: peace, love, joy, courage, friendship;

- the branches of professional activity: chemistry, architecture, mathematics, linguistics;

- materials: water, snow, steel, hair;

- collective inanimate objects: foliage, fruit, furniture.

Some of these words can be used in the form of the common singular, but in this case they come to mean either different sorts of materials or separate concrete manifestations of the qualities denoted by abstract nouns or concrete objects exhibiting the respective qualities:

e.g. Joy is absolutely necessary for normal human life.

It was a joy to see her among us.

Common number with uncountable singular nouns can also be expressed by means of combining them with words showing discreteness, such as bit, piece, item, sort.

e.g. The last two items of news were quite sensational.

Now I’d like to add one more bit of information.

In the sphere of the plural we must recognize the common plural as the regular feature of countability, and the absolute form peculiar to the uncountable subclass of pluralia tantum nouns. The absolute plural cannot directly combine with numerals, and only occasionally does it combine with discrete quantifiers, e.g. many/few, etc.

The absolute plural is characteristic of the uncountable nouns which denote:

- objects consisting of the two halves: trousers, scissors, tongs, spectacles;

- the nouns expressing some sort of collective meaning, i.e. rendering the idea of indefinite plurality, both concrete and abstract: supplies, outskirts, clothes, contents, politics, police, cattle, poultry ;

- the nouns denoting some diseases: measles, mumps, hysterics.

The absolute plural can be represented in countable nouns having the form of the singular and also in countable nouns having the form of the plural. The representation of the absolute plural in different combinations is possible due to functional oppositional reduction which can be of three types:

1. The first type of reduction, consisting in the use of the absolute plural with countable nouns in the singular form, concerns collective nouns, which are treated as “nouns of multitude”.

e.g. The family were gathered round the table.

The government are unanimous in disapproving the move of the opposition. This form of the absolute plural is called “multitude plural”.

2. The second type consists in the use of the absolute plural with uncountable nouns in the plural form and concerns cases of stylistical marking of nouns. Thus, it results in expressive transposition.

e.g. the sands of the desert; the snows of the Arctic; the waters of the ocean, etc.

This form is called “descriptive uncountable plural”.

3. The third type of reduction concerns common countable nouns used in repetition groups. The nouns in repetition groups may themselves be used either in the plural or in the singular.

e.g. There were trees and trees all around us.

I lit cigarette after cigarette.

This form is called “repetition plural”.



Case is the immanent morphological category of the noun manifested in the form of noun declension and showing the relations of the nounal referent to other objects and phenomena.

This category in English is expressed by the opposition of the form –‘s /-z, -s, -iz/, usually called the possessive case, or more traditionally, the genitive case, to the unfeatured form of the noun, usually called the common case.

In the course of linguistic investigation the category of case in English has become one of the vexed problems of theoretical discussion.

Four special views advanced at various times by different scholars are considered as successive stages in the analysis of this problem.

The first view is called the “theory of positional cases”. This theory is directly connected with the old grammatical tradition. According to this theory the unchangeable forms of the noun are differentiated as different cases on the ground of the functional positions occupied by the noun in the sentence. Thus, the English noun would distinguish, besides the inflexional genitive case, also the non-inflexional, i.e. purely positional cases: nominative, vocative, dative, accusative.

e.g. The nominative case (subject to a verb): Rain falls.

The vocative case (address): Are you coming, my friend?

The dative case (indirect object to a verb): I gave John a dollar.

The accusative case (direct object and also object to a preposition):

The cat killed a rat. The earth is covered with snow.

The cardinal mistake of this view is that it substitutes the functional characteristics of the part of the sentence for the morphological features of the word class, since the case form is the variable morphological form of the noun. In reality, the case forms as such serve as means of expressing the functions of the noun in the sentence but not vice versa.

The second view is called the “theory of prepositional cases”. It is also connected with the old school grammar teaching, and was advanced as a logical supplement to the positional view of the case.

According to this theory combinations of nouns with prepositions in certain object and attributive collocations should be understood as morphological case forms. To these belong first of all the dative case (to + noun, for + noun) and the genitive case (of + noun). These prepositions according to G.Curme, are inflexional prepositions, i.e. grammatical elements equivalent to case forms.

The would-be prepositional cases are generally taken by the scholars who recognize them as coexisting with positional cases, together with the classical inflexional genitive completing the case system of the English noun.

The prepositional theory is inconsistent because of the well-known fact that in noun-declensional languages all their prepositions require definite cases of nouns (prepositional case government). This fact shows that any preposition on the ground of its functional nature stands in the same grammatical relations to nouns. It should follow from this that not only the of-, to-, for- phrases but also all the other prepositional phrases in English must be regarded as analytical cases. Thus, the total number of cases would run into dozens.

The third view of the English noun case recognizes a limited inflexional system of two cases in English, one of them featured and the other one is unfeatured. This view is called the “limited case theory”.

This theory is at present most broadly accepted among linguists. It was formulated by such scholars as H.Sweet, O.Jespersen, and has been radically developed by A.I.Smirnitsky, L.S.Barkhudarov and others.

The limited case theory in its modern presentation is based on the explicit oppositional approach to the recognition of grammatical categories. In the system of the English case two forms are differentiated: the possessive or genitive form as the strong member of the categorical opposition and the common or non-genitive form as the weak member of the opposition.

The fourth view of the said problem approaches the English noun as having completely lost the category of case in the course if its historical development. All the nounal cases are considered as extinct and the unit named “the genitive case” by force of tradition in reality is nothing but a combination of a noun with a postposition.

This view advanced by G.N.Vorontsova is called the “theory of the possessive postposition”.

The postpositional theory has both strong and weak points. Its strong point consists in the fact that it is based on careful observation of the lingual data. But it fails to take into account the consistent insight into the nature of the noun form in –‘s achieved by the “limited case theory”.

This view is considered to be extremely disputable. The solution of the problem is to be found on the ground of the positive statements of the two theories: the “limited case theory” and the “possessive postpositional theory”.

A two case declension of nouns should be recognized in English, with its common case as the only oblique case. But unlike the case system in ordinary noun-declensional languages based on inflexional word change, the case system in English is founded on a particle expression. The particle nature of –‘s is evident from the fact that it is added in post-position both to individual nouns and to a nounal word-groups of various status.

Thus, within the expression of the genitive in English two subtypes are to be recognized:

- the first is the word genitive: the student’s report;

- the second is the phrase genitive: the first-year student’s report

Both of them are not inflexional but particle case-forms.

The undertaken study of the case of the noun makes it necessary to reformulate the accepted interpretation of the form-types of the English personal pronouns.

The personal pronouns are commonly treated as having a case system of their own. The two cases traditionally recognized here are the nominative case (I, you, he, etc.) and the objective case (me, you, him, etc.). To these forms the two series of forms of the possessive pronouns are added – the conjoint series (my, you, his, etc.) and the absolute series (mine, yours, his, etc.).

Attempts have been made in linguistics to transfer the accepted view of pronominal cases to the unchangeable forms of the noun. This fact made it possible to support the positional theory of case. In the light of the present study, however, it is clear that these attempts lack an adequate linguistic foundation.

As a matter of fact, the categories of the substitute have to reflect the categories of the antecedent, not vice versa.

The conclusion is that there is at present no case in the English personal pronouns. In its place the four individual word-types of pronouns have appeared:

- the nominative form;

- the objective form;

- the possessive form in two versions: conjoint and absolute.

Thus, it is possible to say that the former system of the English inflexional declension has completely disintegrated, both in the sphere of nouns and their substitute pronouns. In its place a new, limited case system has arisen based on a particle oppositional feature and subsidiary to the prepositional expression of the syntactic relations of the noun.



1. What are the “part of speech” properties of a noun?

2. Why don’t lexical gender markers annul the grammatical character of English gender?

3. Why is the interpretation of the categorial meaning of the nounal plural form as “more than one” considered not well-grounded?

4. What makes the category of case in English disputable?

5. What are the strong and weak points of the “prepositional”, “positional”, and “postpositional” case theories?

6. What ensures a peculiar status of “-s”?


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 2973

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