Nouns in TOEFL speaking and writing

Using nouns correctly in TOEFL speaking and writing will help you improve your score. What is a noun? Are there different types of nouns? What can you do to limit your errors with nouns?

Nouns in TOEFL speaking and writing


Nouns in TOEFL speaking and writing: Definition

Nouns can be persons, places, or things.

  • Person: student
  • Place: TOEFL testing center
  • Thing:  Happiness

The bolded words in the following sentences are nouns:

  • Mount Pinatubo’s volcanic eruption was one of the most powerful explosions over the last 1000 years.
  • A 7.1 earthquake occurred in Ridgecrest, California.
  • The government lowered tax rates on businesses and decreased the regulations in order to encourage small business growth.

Three important clues can help you identify nouns:

  • Prefixes and suffixes on nouns:  -ment and -tion are common affixes which attach to nouns (testament and dictation)
  • The position the nouns occur in the sentence: Nouns common occur as subjects (John went to the opera with his friends.), objects (Jane finished her paper.), and objects of prepositions (At the store Tom purchased some clothes.)
  • Words occurring before nouns: Determiners (the money), quantifiers (several books), and adjectives (intelligent animal) typically serve as noun markers.


Nouns in TOEFL speaking and writing: Abstract and Concrete

One way to improve your mastery of nouns involves your recognition of abstract and concrete nouns.

  • Abstract: Nouns that we cannot touch or see–nouns representing processes that exist in time (weather, storm, sunset) and nouns representing non-observable things such as faith, belief, and happiness.
  • Concrete: Nouns that we can see and touch–nouns naming things that exist in three-dimensional space and are observable such as people, animals, physical objects, and tangible things

Read each category of nouns. What column is abstract? concrete?

Love Squash
Anxiety Umbrella
Freedom Car
Charity Door
Democracy Table
Depression Can
Liberty Boy
Anger Building
Puzzlement Book

Nouns in TOEFL speaking and writing: Common and Proper Nouns

Characteristics of common nouns

  • Have more than one referent
  • Pick out a member of a set of more than one: insanity, food, seatbelt
  • Are usually not capitalized in writing

Proper noun characteristics

  • Refer to a unique entity or referent
  • Pick out a member of a set but there is only one member of that set: Thanksgiving, President of the United States, Statue of Liberty
  • Are usually capitalized in writing

Nouns in TOEFL speaking and writing: Count and Mass

Count nouns describe discrete units and can be pluralized; these determiners care commonly used before count nouns:

  • A, an
  • Another
  • Both
  • Each
  • Every
  • Many
  • Few
  • Several

Mass/uncountable nouns describe an unbounded mass and cannot be pluralized; to make a mass noun countable, a counting term has to be used to divide a mass into countable units: a piece of information and item of clothing. The below two words are commonly used with mass nouns:

  • Much
  • Less

Some, all, and the can be used with count and mass nouns.


Read each category of nouns. What column is count? Mass?

Squirrel Mud
Phone Water
Computer Air
Pencil Homework
Item Sugar
Window Traffic
Person Noise
Bottles Light
Key Sand

Quantifiers such as much and less are usually used with mass nouns:

  • There isn’t much homework in this grammar class.
  • We have less pollution in San Bernardino than we have had in the past.

Count nouns can sometimes be used with a mass meaning:

  • Neighborhoods may be allowed to have up to five chickens per household. (count)
  • According to many dieticians, eating chicken is healthier than eating red meat. (mass)

Nouns in TOEFL speaking and writing: Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are count nouns used to define a group of objects such as team, pride (of lions), jury.

  • Unlike mass nouns, collective nouns can be pluralized: teams, prides, and juries
  • Usually collective nouns are treated as singular

Compare the sentences using collective nouns with singular or plural verbs. Is there any difference in meaning?

  • The class has decided to go do group projects instead of having a final exam. (The class as a group.)
  • The class are discussing among themselves about whether or not they will have a written exam. (The individual members of a group.)

Generic Nouns

Generic nouns are another way to semantically classify nouns:

  • Dogs are man’s best friend.
  • Cats and dogs sometimes do not get along.

Most generic nouns are used without a determiner like the definite article the or the indefinite article a/an. Conversely, we can still understand generic nouns even when they are used with articles.

  • A computer is a useful tool for writing research papers.
  • The computer has changed the way students write research papers.

Nouns Quiz

1. The bear showed so much________at the hikers passing by.

A. anger

B. gestures

C. attention

D.  smiles


2. Earthquakes cause devastating damage to________________.

A.  structure

B. buildment

C. building

D. buildings


3.  Because of her___________of flying, Suzette decided to take the train on her trip to Los Angeles.

A.  fearing

B. anxious

C. anxiety

D. anxieties


4. _____________were on the freeway today compared to last week at this time.

A. Fewer cars

B. Less cars

C. Much car

D. Many car


5. _____________talking to each other about whether or not they should travel by plane to their next soccer.

A. The team is

B. The team are

C. A team is

D. Team


6. __________must complete the research project by the deadline.

A. Student

B. Every student

C. Every students

D. Most of students


7. Some of________is interesting.

A. the books

B. a book

C. the book

D. book


8. ______________assignments were turned in to the professor by the deadline. (Not many)

A. Few

B. A few

C. Quite a few

D. Several


9. Luke did not have_____________in his chemistry class.

A. a homework

B. many homeworks

C. much homework

D. the homework


10. Both the students and the professor decided to explore_______________in Death Valley, California.

A. geological formation

B. geological forming

C. a geological formations

D. geological formations


May the next TOEFFL exam you take be your last!

Michael Buckhoff,

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