Functions of Nouns - Owlcation - Education
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Functions of Nouns

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The 5 grammatical functions of a noun

A noun can be defined as a word that is used to name a person, place, animal, or thing. It can also name a state, an activity, an action, or a quality.

What is the grammatical function of a noun?

The work that a noun performs in a sentence is referred to as its grammatical function. In this article, we are going to take a detailed look at the five grammatical functions of nouns.

A noun can perform any of the following five functions:

  • Subject of a verb
  • Object of a verb
  • Complement of a verb
  • Object of a preposition
  • Be in apposition to another noun

Let us now take a look at the functions above one by one.


Noun functioning as the subject of a verb

A noun will function as the subject of a verb when it is the subject of the sentence and comes before the main verb of the sentence. More often than not, the noun will begin the sentence.

Example: Stacy killed a snake last night. (Here, the noun “Stacy” is functioning as the subject of the verb “killed.”)

Other examples are as follow:

  • John teaches English in China.
  • Children can be very naughty sometimes.
  • Obama was voted President.
  • The politician is a liar.

All of the highlighted nouns in the sentences above are functioning as subjects to their respective verbs. They function as subjects of verbs simply because they come before the main verbs in the sentences and are also the subjects in their respective sentences.


Noun functioning as an object of a verb

A noun functions as an object of a verb when it comes after an action verb and receives the action of the verb. A noun functioning as an object of a verb in a sentence will always be the recipient of an action.

Example: Tom slapped Jerry. (Here, since the noun “Jerry” is coming after the action verb “slapped” and receiving the action of the verb, we say it is the object of the verb “slapped.”)

More examples:

  • I kicked the ball.
  • I hate Janet.
  • The teacher punished the students.
  • I wrote the letter.
  • I know London because I have been there several times.
  • Roberta cooked the food.

All of the highlighted words in the sentences above are nouns functioning as objects of verbs. They are functioning as objects of their respective verbs simply because they are the recipients of the actions of their verbs.


Noun functioning as the complement of a verb

A noun will function as the complement of a verb when it comes after a linking verb or a state-of-being verb and receives no action from the verb. Some examples of linking verbs in the English language include the following: is, are, am, be, are, was, were, been, being, seem, taste, appoint, become, feel, smell, sound, appear, etc.

Example: John is a liar. (Here, the noun “liar” is functioning as the complement of the verb “is.”)

Other examples of nouns functioning as complements of verbs:

  • The man is a trader.
  • I was a teacher while living in China.
  • John is the winner.
  • Our friends from Pakistan were the losers.
  • I think it is an animal.
  • Phil Collins is a legendary musician.

All highlighted nouns in the sentences above are functioning as complements of their respective linking verbs.


Noun functioning as the object of a preposition

When a noun functions as the object of a preposition, it comes after a preposition in a sentence. By definition, any noun that comes immediately after a preposition is the object of that preposition. For example “John” is the object of the preposition “to” in this sentence: I gave the book to John.

We can therefore say that the noun “John” is functioning as the object of the preposition “to.”

Now that we have a good understanding as to what a noun functioning as the object of a preposition looks like, let us take a look at some more examples below.

  • I interceded for the boy.
  • I will buy books for the children today when I visit the bookstore.
  • I have to give it to the teacher.
  • Let us go with John.
  • I trust in God.
  • It is not mine; it is for the landlord.

From the examples above, you can see that each of the nouns highlighted come after prepositions thereby making them objects of their respective prepositions.


Noun being in apposition to another noun

This is the last but not least grammatical function of a noun. A noun can be in apposition to another noun. By definition, the word “apposition” means putting a noun next to another noun to explain it. So each time you see a noun placed next to another noun and that noun is explaining the other noun, then you have a good example of a noun being in apposition to anther noun.

For example: The footballer, Suarez has been suspended. (Here, you notice that two nouns have been put next to each other, namely “footballer” and “Suarez”. Now, you notice that the noun “Suarez” can be used to replace “footballer” and it also gives some information about the other noun "footballer". So we can say the noun "Suarez" is in apposition to the noun "footballer")

Other examples include the following:

  • The nurse, Janet has retired.
  • His book, Animal Farm, is considered one of the greatest books ever written.
  • The pastor, Elijah, has been arrested.
  • My hometown, Manchester, is a wonderful place.

All the highlighted nouns in the sentences above are nouns being in apposition to the nouns coming before them.

I hope that having read from the beginning of this article to the end, you now have at least a rudimentary idea what the functions of nouns are and what each of them looks like. If you still haven’t gotten it yet, I suggest that you read over this article once more. I believe that the understanding will definitely start trickling in gradually.

Let us now try our hands on the following examples below and see if we can identify the grammatical functions of the highlighted nouns in the sentences:


  1. I hate travelling to my hometown.
  2. John performed very well in the exams.
  3. Don’t waste your precious time on John.
  4. The President supported the action.
  5. The strike lasted for more than a week.
  6. Democracy gives power to the people.
  7. The fox jumped over the wall.
  8. He is a professor.
  9. The country, Sweden, is very peaceful.
  10. It was written by George Orwell.


NOTE: The grammatical function of a noun is very similar to the grammatical function of a pronoun. Remember, pronouns behave just like nouns—wherever a noun can be placed, a pronoun can also be placed there and eliminate the noun. This is the reason why grammarians say that pronouns can also perform all of the five grammatical functions of the noun. You can read our lesson on the grammatical functions of pronouns here: Functions of Pronouns. I actually recommend you read that lesson also.


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