A noun that's not the name of any particular person, place, or thing. A common noun represents one or all of the members of a class, and it can be preceded by the definite article (the). Contrast with proper noun.
Examples and Observations:
- "Often it does seem a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat."
- "America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy."
- "Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open."
(Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling, 2000)
- "Canada is a country whose main exports are hockey players and cold fronts. Our main imports are baseball players and acid rain."
- Dr. Gregory House: Dr. House, I don't think we've met.
Dr. Jaime Conway: Dr. Jamie Conway, I've heard your name.
Dr. Gregory House: Most people have. It's also a noun.
(Hugh Laurie and Rob Benedict, "Living the Dream." House M.D., 2008)
- "I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me."
- "Europeans, like some Americans, drive on the right side of the road, except in England, where they drive on both sides of the road; Italy, where they drive on the sidewalk; and France, where if necessary they will follow you right into the hotel lobby."
- Modifiers and Common Nouns
"Common nouns can be modified by a variety of other parts of speech and types of phrase, including articles, demonstratives, possessives, adjectives, prepositional phrases, and relative clauses. The examples below show some of the possibilities:
- these two short planks
- Frank's tubby red-haired wife
- a bath with Rosie
- a tune that anyone can whistle
(James R. Hurford, Grammar. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994)
- How Proper Nouns Can Become Common Nouns
"It is possible . . . for proper nouns to lose their capital letter and come into the language as ordinary words. This process gives rise to a surprising number of new words. For example, trade names have given us filofax, playdough, velcro and walkman, to name just a few that have recently entered the language. Place names can also become common nouns. For example, the word jeans has its origin in the town of Genoa, where a type of heavy fabric (resembling denim) was once made; denim itself derives from Nîmes, the name of a city in southern France (originally serge de Nîmes 'serge [cloth] of Nîmes'). When personal names convert to ordinary nouns, their behaviour is no different from that of other common nouns."
(Kersti Börjars and Kate Burridge, Introducing English Grammar, 2nd ed. Hodder, 2010)