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Are there some fill-in-the-blank type questions that, if one were to fill in the blank and it sounded right to a fluent speaker then it would have to be a proper noun (or it would have to be a common noun)?

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3 Answers 3

It's rare, though not impossible, to have an article in front of a proper noun, e.g. "The Alan...", "A Steve...". But these are not always completely bad: "The Alan with the white shirt...", etc.

Still, even in the latter example I think it sounds awkward enough to provide a decent heuristic, if that's what you are looking for.

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1  
This only works to the extent it does for people's names and other certain names, but there are a lot of proper nouns that aren't people's names (The Gap, The Beatles, The Shining, The Milky Way, etc.). Still, I don't think there is any answer that covers all proper nouns, so this might be the only thing that provides at least a bit of help. –  Kosmonaut Aug 19 '10 at 0:49
    
And in the Hague, the the is mandatory! –  Jason Orendorff Apr 4 '11 at 13:18

I am not sure you can devise such a test, taking into account only two of the many types of nouns (abstract, concrete, non-countable or mass, countable, collective).

The only test I can think of is related to the plural form: Proper nouns rarely have a plural form (at least, comparatively to common nouns).

So, if you can say: "I have/know many xxxxS", and that sounds right to a fluent speaker, chances are: xxxx is not a proper noun.
But that doesn't imply it is a common noun.

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Of course, there are exceptions: The Marrons for instance. –  VonC Aug 9 '10 at 15:34

The only way I can think of doing this, is by using names. For example:

  1. Alice visited __________. Together, they had a nice time.
  2. __________ is very tall. He is over six feet.

You could add some examples where the noun is referrer to by "it" to make the distinction. The problem, of course, is that referring to countries or other proper nouns (for instance a company name) isn't possible.

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These look like exceptions... #1. the elves. (or elves) #2. father. (or my father) –  MatthewMartin Aug 9 '10 at 19:38
    
I suppose this shows that it won't work with open questions. The only way I can suggest to resolve this is by having a choice of answers; e.g. five sentences and five nouns, where the objective is to place an answer in the correct blank. –  Paul Lammertsma Aug 9 '10 at 19:53

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