Concrete nouns and abstract nouns are broad categories of nouns based on physical existence: Concrete nouns are physical things that can be seen, touched, heard, etc.; abstract nouns are nonphysical ideas that cannot be perceived through the senses. For example, you can touch a muscle, which makes it a concrete noun, but you cannot touch strength, which makes it an abstract noun.
All nouns are either concrete or abstract, but never both at the same time. It can sometimes be hard to know which is which, so this guide explains their differences and how to tell them apart, with lists of both concrete noun examples and abstract noun examples.
What are concrete nouns?
Concrete nouns describe physical things that can be sensed: seen, touched, heard, smelled, or tasted. Most nouns are concrete nouns—for example, rocks, butterflies, grandmothers, and the Great Sphinx of Giza. Even invisible things, including air (which can be felt) and music (which can be heard), are concrete nouns.
Microscopic things, such as bacteria and atoms, are also concrete nouns because they exist in the physical world. Even imaginary or fantasy things, such as unicorns and the character Katniss Everdeen, are concrete nouns—but only if they represent something that can be sensed, even if only in fictional writing.
Specifically, concrete nouns consist of these:
- Living things: nouns that relate to people, animals, plants, and other organisms, both general (humans, trees) and specific (Billie Eilish, California redwood)
- Places: nouns that relate to locations, both general (city, mountain) and specific (Lagos, Mount Fuji)
- Material things: nouns that represent things we can perceive through the senses—not only physical objects, such as furniture and statues, but also things like dances and noise
Examples of concrete nouns
- prime minister
- Danny DeVito
- Santa Claus
- social media
- The Bluest Eye (novel)
What are abstract nouns?
By contrast, abstract nouns are nonphysical things that cannot be sensed. These are ideas, emotions, and other intangible things that exist in our minds instead of in the physical world. For example, intelligence and education are abstract nouns because they’re immaterial concepts (you can’t touch education), but place names such as schools and universities are concrete nouns because they can be perceived through our senses.
Abstract nouns have many different categories, but some of the most common include these:
- Emotions/feelings: nouns that describe a mental state or mood, such as anger and comfort
- Characteristics: nouns that describe a personality trait, feature, quality, virtue, or vice, such as bravery and elegance
- Philosophical concepts: nouns that describe complex ideas of logic, principle, or ideals, such as morality and socialism
- States of being: nouns that describe a condition or way of existence, such as chaos and luxury
- Time: nouns that relate to time—both common, such as minute and year, and proper, such as Wednesday and July
Differentiating between abstract nouns and concrete nouns isn’t always easy, but there is a quick trick that can help. If a word uses a suffix to turn itself into a noun, it’s an abstract noun. For example, the adjective cute takes the suffix –ness to make the abstract noun cuteness. Some common suffixes used by abstract nouns include these:
- -acy/-cy—normalcy, privacy, vacancy
- -ance/-ence—maintenance, persistence, importance
- -ism—feminism, atheism, patriotism
- -ity—velocity, animosity, creativity
- -ment—agreement, entertainment, government
- -ness—business, cleanliness, happiness
- -ship—friendship, internship, relationship
- -sion/-tion—compassion, consideration, demolition
Abstract noun examples
States of being
- the 80s
Concrete nouns vs. abstract nouns
Concrete nouns and abstract nouns are two important classifications for nouns to help understand the natures of the things they represent. However, when it comes to grammar and usage, the difference is rather meaningless.
Concrete nouns and abstract nouns follow the same grammar rules as all general nouns. Both can turn into possessive nouns with the same construction; for example, you can talk about beauty’s price just as you can talk about a book’s price. Likewise, both can form compound nouns, such as the concrete noun trash can and the abstract noun entertainment business.
Concrete and abstract noun FAQs
What are concrete nouns?
Concrete nouns describe physical things that can be sensed: seen, touched, heard, smelled, or tasted. They include all living things, places, and material things—even invisible things, such as bacteria and music.
What are abstract nouns?
Abstract nouns describe conceptual things that cannot be sensed. They include all emotions, feelings, characteristics, philosophical concepts, states of being, and time. For example, independence, beauty, love, anger, and Monday are all abstract nouns.
How to tell the difference between concrete nouns and abstract nouns?
To tell if a noun is concrete or abstract, ask yourself whether it can be sensed—i.e., can it be seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted? If it can be sensed, then it’s a concrete noun; if not, then it’s abstract. Another way is to look for suffixes like –ness and -ment: Nouns that end in these suffixes are usually abstract, such as happiness and entertainment.