Abstract Noun | Definition, Examples & Worksheet

An abstract noun is a noun that refers to something non-physical—something conceptual that you can’t perceive directly with your senses. Examples include “sadness,” “analysis,” “government,” and “adulthood.”

Abstract nouns are contrasted with concrete nouns, which are words like “cat,” “desk,” or “Andrew” that refer to physical objects and entities.

Examples: Abstract nouns
Family is important to me.

The passage of time isn’t easy to perceive.

The article derides the quality of popular music. The author’s snobbishness is plain to see.

Abstract nouns vs. concrete nouns

Abstract nouns differ from concrete nouns in terms of what they describe:

  • Abstract nouns refer to anything that isn’t directly observable. That could mean personal qualities, measurements of time, cultural movements, or concepts.
  • Concrete nouns refer to what can be perceived with the senses: things, people, animals, and places.
Examples: Abstract nouns and concrete nouns
She expressed her disapproval of his comments with a frown.

John expressed his opinion on the subject clearly and forcefully.

The same word could often be interpreted as abstract or concrete depending on your perspective and on the context in which it is used. The distinction is often very subjective.

Example: Nouns that can be abstract or concrete
Music brings people together.

The music playing in the next room prevented her from sleeping.

Note
There’s no grammatical difference in the ways concrete and abstract nouns are used. The point is just to show the different kinds of things that nouns can refer to. The categories are quite subjective and are usually ignored by language authorities (e.g., dictionaries).

Check for common mistakes

Use the best grammar checker available to check for common mistakes in your text.

grammar-checker-common-mistakes

Fix mistakes for free

Abstract noun examples

Abstract nouns represent a wide variety of things—anything that isn’t represented by a concrete noun, in fact. The table below explores a few different categories of things that abstract nouns can refer to.

Examples of abstract nouns
Personal qualities and emotions happiness, exhaustion, callousness, nostalgia, presumptuousness, loquacity, anger, love, charisma
Time designations Tuesday, hours, the 1980s, centuries, midnight, yesterday, the future
States of being solidity, chaos, peace, vacancy, impermanence, presence, activation, existence
Cultural/political/social/religious movements Romanticism, feminism, modernism, conservatism, republicanism, Marxism, environmentalism, Christianity, Buddhism
Philosophical and academic concepts pathos, beauty, possibility, freedom, ethics, ontology, anachronism
Note
Abstract nouns (and concrete nouns) can always be more technically classified as some other type of noun: plural or singular, common noun, proper noun, countable or uncountable, collective noun, etc.

Formation of abstract nouns

A lot (though not all) of the examples given in the previous section followed a few specific patterns in terms of the suffixes they ended with (e.g., “-ness,” “-ism”).

This is because abstract nouns are formed from adjectives, verbs, and other nouns in a number of standard ways. Common ways of forming abstract nouns are shown in the table below.

Suffixes that form abstract nouns
Suffix Root words Abstract nouns
-al recite, deny, propose, bestow recital, denial, proposal, bestowal
-ance appear, resist, perform, ally appearance, resistance, performance, alliance
-ation relax, flirt, color, realize relaxation, flirtation, coloration, realization
-ence subsist, exist, depend, refer subsistence, existence, dependence, reference
-hood nation, child, mother, false nationhood, childhood, motherhood, falsehood
-ion indicate, relate, hydrate, equate indication, relation, hydration, equation
-ism parallel, liberal, lyric, critic parallelism, liberalism, lyricism, criticism
-ity Christian, generous, dense, historic Christianity, generosity, density, historicity
-ment judge, amaze, base, pave judgment, amazement, basement, pavement
-ness petty, sad, dark, one pettiness, sadness, darkness, oneness
-ship owner, friend, fellow, reader ownership, friendship, fellowship, readership
Note
Not all abstract nouns are formed in these ways (e.g., “anger” isn’t), but nouns formed in these ways are usually considered abstract.

Worksheet: Concrete vs. abstract nouns

Want to test your understanding of the difference between concrete and abstract nouns? Try the worksheet below. Just decide whether each highlighted noun is concrete or abstract.

  1. The dog seemed to enjoy its dinner.
  2. The price of adhering to one’s principles can be high.
  3. The name of my cat is Whiskers.
  4. The foundations of the house have begun to sink due to a lack of maintenance.
  5. My neighbor John has some questionable ideas about politics.
  1. The dog seemed to enjoy its dinner.
    • Both “dog” and “dinner” are concrete nouns, since they represent physical entities in the world.
  1. The price of adhering to one’s principles is sometimes high.
    • “Price” and “principles” are both abstract nouns because you can’t touch or see a principle or a price (although you might see something representing a price, so a noun like “price tag” would be considered concrete).
  1. The name of my cat is Whiskers.
    • The concept of a name is abstract. “Cat” is a concrete noun because a cat is a physical being. “Whiskers” is concrete whether you take it to mean the speaker’s cat or simply the word “Whiskers” in its use as a name—both of these can be perceived with the senses.
  1. The foundations of the house have begun to sink due to a lack of maintenance.
    • “Foundations” and “house” both represent specific physical things and are therefore concrete nouns. “Lack” and “maintenance” are both more conceptual and are therefore abstract.
  1. My neighbor John has some questionable ideas about politics.
    • Both the common noun “neighbor” and the proper noun “John” (here used as an appositive) are concrete nouns, since they refer to people. “Ideas” and “politics” are both abstract because they refer to concepts rather than physical things.

    Check for common mistakes

    Use the best grammar checker available to check for common mistakes in your text.

    grammar-checker-common-mistakes

    Fix mistakes for free

    Other interesting language articles

    If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, common mistakes, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

    Frequently asked questions

    What is an abstract noun?

    An abstract noun is a noun describing something that can’t be directly perceived with the senses.

    Abstract nouns may refer to general or philosophical concepts (e.g., “art,” “democracy,” “evidence”), emotions and personal qualities (e.g., “happiness,” “impatience”), time measurements (e.g., “hours,” “January”), or states of being (e.g., “solidity,” “instability”).

    Abstract nouns are the opposite of concrete nouns, which refer to physical things that can be perceived with the senses: objects, substances, places, people and animals, and so on. For example, “window,” “Dorian,” and “sand.”

    What is a concrete noun?

    A concrete noun is a noun describing a physical entity that can be perceived with the senses. Concrete nouns may refer to things (e.g., “phone,” “hat”), places (e.g., “France,” “the post office”), or people and animals (e.g., “dog,” “doctor,” “Jamal”).

    Concrete nouns are contrasted with abstract nouns, which refer to things that can’t be directly perceived—ideas, theories, concepts, and so on. Examples include “happiness,” “condemnation,” “ethics,” and “time.”

    What are the different types of nouns?

    There are many ways to categorize nouns into various types, and the same noun can fall into multiple categories or even change types depending on context.

    Some of the main types of nouns are:

    Sources in this article

    We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

    This Scribbr article

    Caulfield, J. (2023, April 18). Abstract Noun | Definition, Examples & Worksheet. Scribbr. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/nouns-and-pronouns/abstract-noun/

    Sources

    Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

    Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

    Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

    Is this article helpful?
    Jack Caulfield

    Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.