What would you call a noun which lives at the very bottom of a hierarchy of common/proper nouns?

For example, say we have the proper noun "Regent Street".

The common noun is "Street", which is a name we give (among many others eg. "Avenue", "Road") to a thoroughfare.

But what kind of noun is "thoroughfare"? Root noun? Perhaps I'm thinking of this with too much of an engineers head :)

Would thoroughfare in this case qualify as an abstract noun?

Another example:

  • Proper Noun - "Ford Mondeo"
  • Common Noun - "Car" (among Van, Lorry, Motorcycle etc)
  • Abstract(?) Noun - "Vehicle"
  • 5
    I would call them "nouns".
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 13:40
  • 1
    What would you call them if you had a taxonomy fetish? :)
    – MattDavey
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 13:55
  • 8
    Ah, in that case, I would call them "nouns". :)
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 13:58
  • Seriously, though, you yourself called them "common" nouns. That is the right word to distinguish them from proper nouns.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 14:00
  • 2
    MattDavey, if it was a real fetish I imagine you would know that to taxonomize you need a set of stable (and ideally non-overlapping) classification criteria. When you will be able to better describe such criteria, you will have the answer.
    – Unreason
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 14:10

3 Answers 3


Abstract nouns refer to abstract things, concrete nouns to concrete things. ‘Table’, for example, is concrete. It’s something we can touch and bump into. ‘Thoughtfulness’, on the other hand, is not something we can touch and bump into. It’s abstract.

Proper nouns describe things or people that are unique, such as ‘Africa’, ‘Madonna’ or ‘Piccadilly’. By contrast, there are several continents, singers and streets, so ‘continent’, ‘singer and ‘street’ are common nouns.

‘Thoroughfare’ is a concrete common noun. We may not be able to touch it and bump into it in the same way we can touch and bump into a table, but it is clearly something which exists in the world outside our own minds. It's a common noun because there are lots of them. It is also a countable noun, but perhaps we should save that for another time.


A hyponym, in relation to a hypernym, is a word that describes a class that is a subset of the hypernym word. A beagle is a kind of hound, which is a kind of dog, which is a kind of carnivore, which is kind of mammal, which is ...etc, etc.

You're looking for the word which describes a class that has no hyponyms. I would call this a

terminal hyponym


minimal hyponym

because it is at the bottom (terminal) of the hierarchy. The 'root' of the tree would then be the terminal or maximal hypernym.

This is what I would call it, but never have until now because of the originality of the concept to me. I don't know if this would be all that useful since I don't think you could ever prevent coming up with a more refined hyponym or more inclusive hypernym.

As to 'proper' nouns, those for particular individuals or names of particular objects, in the same parlance as hypnyms and hypernyms, are called an


or a


In your examples, a Ford Mondeo is an instance of a model of car, and car is a hyponym of vehicle which is a hyponym of machine, etc, etc. (yes, one could consider 'Ford Mondeo' a hyponym of car, a concept of which there are instances namely this car in this parking lot.)

  • 1
    Thanks for the post Mitch - very interesting indeed (I adore the term "terminal hyponym"). Is this the kind of terminology you might find in the world of natural language processing? It does seem to be a "techies'" view of language though, so I'll have to accept Barrie's answer as I think his is slightly more in line with what English Language SE is all about.. (on stackoverflow I would have accepted yours) :)
    – MattDavey
    Commented Sep 17, 2011 at 16:54


It's not exactly a term used for words, but I think this concept can be used to describe words that have more general meaning than the others of the similar meaning (like thoroughfare in your example)

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