English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is sunlight a concrete or abstract noun?

What differentiates an abstract noun with a concrete noun?

share|improve this question
Can you explain what are you exactly asking? Because, maybe it's me, but in its current form, it seems more like a question about physics rather than English... :) – Alenanno Aug 30 '11 at 10:43
I've never heard of this distinction, but I'm not a native speaker and Wikipedia knows it. According to Wikipedia anything that represents a physical entity is a concrete noun. I don't think that this necessarily imply mass, as "sunlight" would be concrete according to this definition. – Joachim Sauer Aug 30 '11 at 10:51
@Alenanno The classification of different types of nouns is something about grammar. – kiamlaluno Aug 30 '11 at 11:29
@kiamlaluno: It's not really about grammar. It's an attempt by some guy writing in Wikipedia to divide up the world in a particular way, and reflect this in his lexical analysis and termonology. If it's about anything, I'd say it's about epistemology (the study of knowledge, and how we come to know it). – FumbleFingers Aug 30 '11 at 11:47
I think you're tying yourself in pointless knots. If physicists suddenly discover a change in the nature of light, do you think that this discovery is somehow going to spontaneously bring about a linguistic change? If your categorisation is not based on linguistic phenomena, then why care? – Neil Coffey Aug 30 '11 at 12:32
up vote 5 down vote accepted

A concrete noun names something you can perceive with your senses; an abstract noun names something you cannot perceive with your senses.

Examples of concrete nouns are: table, noise, pineapple.
Examples of abstract nouns are: democracy, belief, sadness.

[Reference: English Grammar—David Daniels, Barbara Daniels; ISBN 0-006-467109-7]

share|improve this answer
And according to the authors, what's the linguistic basis for this categorisation...? – Neil Coffey Aug 30 '11 at 12:27
And: what effect does this categorization have? Are concrete nouns used any different from abstract ones? Do they obey different rules? – Joachim Sauer Aug 30 '11 at 12:51
@Joachim Sauer: I think the concrete/abstract nouns distinction was part of primitive early attempts to codify "semantics" as a formal discipline. The idea being that concretes had a 1-to-1 relationship with pre-existing things, so they were "just" symbols. Whereas abstracts denoted things that didn't "really" exist, so in a sense the word defines/crystalises/creates its real-world referent. A bit facile by today's standards, I think. – FumbleFingers Aug 30 '11 at 15:36
@Joachim they obviously do, what else do you think is the reason for subclassing them? do you mean to say linguists of the century are doing things for no reason? – Pacerier Aug 30 '11 at 16:01
@Pacerier: I wasn't saying anything, I was asking. Whenever something is divided in categories I expect there to be some reason or effect from that categorization. How is a concrete noun treated differently from an abstract one? – Joachim Sauer Aug 30 '11 at 18:17

I think you are best asking this question of the person who first taught you this terminology. It's not an official term like noun or verb. That said, some words clearly describe actual things you can touch, hear, and see (desk, dog, apple) and others describe intangible concepts (love, employment contract, marriage, tax rate). When my kids and I play 20 Questions, we add a category that covers these things along with TV shows, songs, emotions and other intangibles. Definitely for advanced players :-).

In Object Oriented Programming, concrete classes describe things that can actually exist (truck, employee, purchase order, savings account, square) and abstract classes describe "umbrella concepts" that are more category than object (vehicle, business entity, transaction, bank account, shape). I ask my students to imagine opening "just a bank account - not a savings account, not a chequing account, not a retirement account, just an account." It can't be done. Abstract classes can't be instantiated. Only concrete ones can. Now, does this have anything to do with the distinction someone made to you? And how does sunlight fit into this?

share|improve this answer

Nouns can all be catagorized as concrete or abstract. It is a linguistic construct. Concrete nouns can be sensed, or more simply put have atomic structure or form. However, language is complex and variable so a specific song or dance is considered concrete due to its specific pattern of tones or movements, whereas time, despite its patterns, is considered abstract. Abstract nouns are typically emotions, philosophies, ideas, or concepts.

share|improve this answer

Abstract nouns are basically used for representation of ideas, qualities, states, something that cannot be perceived by the senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. For example, honesty, happiness, sadness are abstract nouns. Concrete nouns, on the other hand, can be perceived by our five senses. Mostly, the concrete nouns refer to something that we can touch and so they are also named as material nouns. For example, noise, sunlight (in your case), table, chair, etc. I hope that helped.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.