Concrete nouns refer to material objects which we can see or touch.

Abstract nouns refer to things which are not material objects, such as ideas, feelings and situations.


The infinitive without to often emphasises the whole action or event which someone hears or sees.


According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “action” and “event” can be seen, which means, it seems, it classifies them as concrete nouns. But according to our common sense, they are abstract nouns and they can’t be seen. What’s wrong with the dictionary?


I posted here because people try to analyse not in a philosophical way in other SEs.

  • Language (not only the dictionary) allows addressing trivial issues, and it is not precise. For example, you don't hear or see an explosion. The explosion is the fact of a chemical reaction producing cascades of atomic interactions which we cannot perceive as such. You hear or see its effects, for example, light that is emitted due to reason x or air vibrations that result from reason y. There are dictionaries for preciser disciplines, but for a rigorous, strict and exact description of nature, we know only mathematics, although not as deeply as needed to describe a single atom.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 12:49
  • 1
    @RodolfoAP Thank you. Joseph’s answer was too sophisticated to understand easily.
    – user09827
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 13:01
  • Joseph Weissman discusses an interesting fact: since events exist (ontology) only in our minds, the boundaries and content of what each one understands as an event depend on multiple subjective factors, more than what occurs out there physically. To understand how we differ in delimitating an event: think in what day, what hour, minute and second the coronavirus "start to spread" event occurred (clearly, before, it wasn't; now it is!). That value will certainly change for me, you or anyone. So, the event is not really what happened out there, but what happens in each one's mind.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 13:34

4 Answers 4


The ontological status of the event is definitely a subtle question. On the one hand there are visible ‘incidents’ or traces (asperities, like on the pock-marked surface of the moon, or knots in the grain of wood) — there are also imperceptible transformations at scales too small or durations too brief to leave visible traces. And either way traces are not the event as such; neither the causes of the event nor the consequences flowing from it are ‘part’ of the formal reality of the event as such; an event is (formally, logically) distinct from its causes and consequences.

  • Instead of seeing an event as the 0th derivative of a state function S(t), what if we look at 1st derivative or 1st definite integral of abs(S(t))? These would give us either rate of change, or total change, respectively. The extremum of rate could represent the time-point of event while the integral evaluation could represent the magnitude of event.
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 18:37

We can perceive a specific action or event, but not the categories of actions or events themselves. We can see someone running, or rain falling, or a baby babbling. But we can't see "an action" in the generic sense.


'Action' and 'event' have a beginning and an end and you see them (the beginning and the end), don't you? Usually you will say 'yes' to this question, but if you say 'no', that means you cannot see anything :) You may go with your higher level philosophy and say, "I can't see anything:)"

If you say you can see the beginning and the end, (in normal case) you can see everything between them. The changed thing you see every moment itself is the action or the event. Cf. movie and frames. Therefore, the dictionary cannot be said to be wrong. They can't be treated as abstract nouns.

  • Events have beginning and ends? When exactly does a bout of anxiety begin, and when exactly does a person die?
    – J D
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 15:43

You're dealing with the problem of universals, but don't realize it.

Can we really see or hear action or event?

For many events, we can see or hear them. For instance, if I buy a ticket to a boxing match, and I watch one pugilist knock down the other, I may leap to my feat having seen the contact between the glove and the face, I may hear the grunt of the recipient of the blow, and I hear the crowd react in a roar. In fact, we might be able to smell and taste events too. Let's say I'm at a restaurant, the action and event of eating calamari for the first time is both an action and an event. And yet, action and event are indeed abstractions. So how are they empirical all?

This seems to be the problem of universals rearing its head again. From WP:

The problem of universals is an ancient question from metaphysics that has inspired a range of philosophical topics and disputes: "Should the properties an object has in common with other objects, such as color and shape, be considered to exist beyond those objects? And if a property exists separately from objects, what is the nature of that existence?"

So, an 'event' is an empirical experience that has a specific time and place in the universe, say your 21st birthday, but 'event' is also a class. There are particular events, and a universal idea of events, where the former are concrete happenings, and the latter is a category.

Your reasoning, therefore, contains in it equivocation. Therefore, we can highlight your text to see where the apparent contradiction can be resolved by indicating which is the universal (U) and the particular (P) senses:

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, [“ACTIONP”] and [“EVENTP”] can be seen, which means, it seems, it classifies them as concrete nouns. But according to our common sense, [“ACTIONU” and “EVENTU”] are abstract nouns and they can’t be seen. What’s wrong with the dictionary?

So, there you have it. You are conflating a particular event with the universal category of events leading to the confusion. Once the distinction is drawn, the problem dissolves.

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