I'm having difficulty determining if certain nouns are considered places or things. For example, I'm unsure if 'a park' is a place or a thing. More generally, with the standard definition of a noun as a person, place, thing, or idea, how does one determine the difference between a place, thing, idea, etc. Another example could be 'heaven', is this a place or an idea? I'd greatly appreciate any help. Thank you.

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    The answer to "Is park a place or a thing?" is "yes, yes it is." – Marthaª Feb 1 '16 at 22:39
  • Why can't "a park" be a place and a thing? Heaven is a bad example, because it's not a place you can just visit, so that's more a philosophical question. – Andrew Leach Feb 1 '16 at 22:39
  • How is it in your mother tongue? I would be astonished if in your mother tongue "park" is a thing and not an area. I think the normal concept of "park" is area, and not thing. At least it is this way in the languages I know. -Sometimes the dimension of something can be reduced - a town is normally an area. But from far you can see it as a point on the map. You can say "I'm in A-town, when you are there. And you can say "I live at A-town when you are far from A-town. – rogermue Feb 1 '16 at 23:13
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    Hi Newman! Welcome to EL&U. You might want to wait a day or two before selecting an answer. You may get many other intersting an useful answers, but people may not bother to write one for you if you've already selected one. You can deselect my answer by clicking again on the green tick, if you want. Please keep posting interesting questions! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 1 '16 at 23:29

Ah, this stems from teachers telling students that nouns represent things, verbs represent actions and so on and so forth.

Unfortunately, none of this is true. It's a seemingly handy generalisation for helping students intuitively identify nouns before you actually get down to discussing nouns with them properly. Otherwise it's pretty misleading.

Nouns often represent actions, for example, baptism, or massacre. Verbs often represent states and not actions - for example the verb have.

Nouns are words that typically represent things, but may not. They are nouns not because of what they represent but because of how they work in the grammar. They tend to inflect for number, for example using the suffix s. They often occur with articles and determiners. They (or the phrases that they head) are very frequently used as Subjects, Objects, Complements of prepositions, Modifiers of other nouns. It is these things that make nouns nouns, not what they represent.

Individual words may represent both places and ideas at the same time, or perhaps things and ideas. What exactly a noun represents isn't really tightly fixed in the way we imagine it to be. It can change radically or subtly with the context of the sentence that we see it in and the context of that sentence within the larger conversation.

The upshot of this is that if a park seems like a place to you, it is! If it seems like a thing to you, it probably is too. It depends on how you're thinking about it. There's no 'right answer' to this question. You are free to decide as you think fit. Freedom is a wonderful thing.

  • I love these kind of answers. – haha Feb 2 '16 at 0:47
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    Along these lines, I have another online friend from another language forum long ago who introduced me to this gem of an expression: The neat thing about English is you can verb any noun. ;) – Tim Ward Feb 2 '16 at 11:27
  • @TimWard Yes, indeed. There ain't no noun that can't be verbed :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 2 '16 at 11:35
  • I'm very much against the syntactic-only definition of nouns so common today (though I'm certainly not advocating a semantic-only approach either). The whole purpose of language is to communicate (information, feelings ...) as accurately as possible, and nouns have referents (or rather real-world places/people/objects/concepts ... are ascribed nouns). A problem is handling/classifying abstract referents such as possession (non-count), silence, fear, absence ... and, as you say, even concrete ones. // A park has an existence even if it's one I've never heard of. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 31 '17 at 0:01
  • @EdwinAshworth So does it exists as a place of a thing? Also, in the sentences "I was aware that the criminal was baptised by the priest" and "I was aware of the baptism of the criminal by the priest", what is it exactly that makes 'baptism' a thing in the second but an 'action' in the first? There is no material difference in meaning between these two sentences. There is no referent in the second that does not exist in the first or vice versa. It is just misleading to say that the first only refers to two entities, but that the second refers to three. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jan 31 '17 at 7:44

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