"Noun Phrases" in English Grammar

Noun Phrases

When a group of nouns come together, they form a noun phrase. To know what is a noun phrase and how short or how long a noun phrase can be, start here!

"Noun Phrases" in English Grammar

What Are Noun Phrases?

A noun phrase is a group of words headed by a noun and its modifiers (such as 'the,' 'a,' 'of him,' 'with her'). In this case, the preceding words modify the head.

Different Parts of a Noun Phrase

A noun phrase consists of a noun, which is called the head, and any dependent word(s) before or after the head which modifies the head and is called a modifier. These dependent words (modifiers) give us specific information about the head.

Parts of a Noun Phrase

Basically, a noun phrase is consist of three main parts:

  • pre-modifier(s)
  • head
  • post-modifier(s)

Pre-modifiers

There are different types of modifiers that are used before the head of the noun phrase to modify it that are called pre-determiners. These pre-modifiers are:

Determiner + Noun

A modifier can be a 'determiner that is used before the head of noun phrase. There are different types of determiners in English, each has its own order. There are actually concepts, as pre-determiners and post-determiners which makes clear the order of the determiners.

My friend is a dentist.

Here, 'my' is a determiner and 'my friend' is a noun phrase.

This book is really interesting.

Here, 'this' is a determiner and 'this book' is a noun phrase.

All these houses are up for sale.

Here, 'all' is a quantifier (pre-determiner), 'these' is a determiner and together they form a noun phrase.

Adjective + Noun

A noun phrase can also be comprised of an adjective and a noun. Adjectives are words that can describe the nouns as modifiers.

He wanted to buy new shoes.

Here, 'new' is an adjective that modifies the noun 'shoes.'

The red cotton skirt is hers.

Compound Nouns

Compound nouns have different structures, some words such as nouns are placed before the head of the noun phrase to make compound nouns. Check out the examples.

My aunt cooked some sweet-smelling cookies.

I need a two-week break from all the work.

Participles + Nouns

Participles are verbal nouns (v + -ing or v + -ed) that can be used before the head of a noun phrase to modify it. Take a look at these examples to help you learn them better.

This is a boring movie for me.

You cannot make a scared person calm.

Possessive Nouns + Nouns

Possessive nouns can be used before the head of a noun as modifiers they can show possessions and relations. Check these examples.

Hanna's father is a logical man, he would understand the situation.

I called his friend's girlfriend but she couldn't come.

Post-modifiers

Post-modifiers are placed after the head of a noun phrase to describe them. the most important non-finite post-modifiers are participle and infinitive clauses. Here are the post-modifiers on the list.

  • prepositional phrases
  • that-clause
  • infinitive clause
  • participle clause
  • relative clauses

Prepositional Phrases

A prepositional phrase is a phrase that is placed after a preposition. When it comes to noun phrases, prepositional phrases can be put after the noun and modify it. Here are a few examples.

the house behind the fence

that room in the back

the man in the back yard

the doll under the table

That-clauses

That-clauses are clauses that start with the term 'that' and are used to modify a noun. Here are the examples.

the dog that keeps barking

the house that is painted red

the teacher that gave me a zero

the doctor that saved Sara

Infinitive Clauses

Infinitive clauses are made of the particle 'to' followed by the base form of the verb. Remember not to confuse infinitive clauses with prepositional phrases. Check out the examples.

a dog to train

a cat to chase the mice

a house to rent

a car to race

Participle Clauses

Participles can also be used to postmodify a noun. Here are a few examples that help you learn them better.

the dog trained at the academy

the cat sleeping in the shade

the house rented in Hawaii

the girl standing over there

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses are clauses that start with a relative pronoun or a relative adverb, and they are used to post modify the head of a noun. Here are the examples.

the season when you arrived

the man whom I called

the food that was made

the teacher who taught us math

When Do We Use Noun Phrases?

Using a Noun Phrase as the Subject

Noun phrases can be a single word or a group of words that can be used as the subject, object, complement, object of the preposition, or appositive. Here are the functions of a noun phrase on the list.

Here are a few examples for each function of noun phrases.

A beautiful girl was crying. → subject

She has many good friends. → object

The box is a big expensive present. → subject complement

He chose the small ball. → object complement

Peter, Mark's father, is a handsome man. → appositive

No Modifier and Noun Phrases

A noun phrase can be just one noun, which means sometimes the head of a noun phrase can shape the noun phrase on its own.

People want fresh, local food.

Here, 'people' is a noun used as a noun phrase.

I called Hanna.

Noun Phrase: Order

Here is the order of pre-modifiers that is required to make a noun phrase.

  • Determiner + adjectives + nouns as modifiers + head

Check out the examples.

A broken wooden door

A (determiner) + broken (adjective) + wooden (adjective) + door (head)

His light green silk scarf

Using Adverbs with Noun Phrases

Adverbs can be used in different positions. So based on the context you can use adverbs in different positions.

A Noun Phrase within a Noun Phrase

Sometimes one of the modifiers of a noun phrase can be a noun phrase.

the corner near that tall tree

Here, the noun 'tree' is the head of the phrase 'near that tall tree' which is a modifier for the wider noun phrase 'the corner near that tall tree.'

the little girl in the corner

Here, 'girl' is the head of the noun phrase, modified by a prepositional phrase 'in the corner.' 'Corner' is also the head of the phrase 'in the corner.'

What Is the Difference between a Noun Clause and a Noun Phrase?

Noun phrases never have a verb, they may be one or more words, however, noun clauses can never be only one word and they usually have a subject and a verb. Some noun clauses such as non-finite noun clauses do not follow the same rule. Check out the examples.

Whoever wants to pass the test, study the grammar very well. → noun clause

In this example, the relative pronoun 'whoever' is the subject of the verb 'wants,' so, it is a noun clause.

That beautiful girl is my sister. → noun phrase

Here, the noun phrase 'that beautiful girl' has no verbs.

The Importance of Spotting the Head Noun

One of the important things about recognizing the head of a noun phrase is to choose the right verb for the sentence. You have to spot the head noun, because when it is the subject of a verb, it is the head noun that determines the verb. Look at the example:

His big bag of chips was (not were) in the kitchen.

Here, the head noun is 'bag' not 'chips,' therefore we should use a singular verb for the sentence.

Review

A noun phrase is a group of words headed by a noun or a pronoun that includes modifiers. Noun phrases make the noun more specific.

Noun Phrase Structure

Determiner + Noun My friend is a dentist.
Adjective + Noun I have bought new shoes.
Quantifier + Determiner + Noun All these houses are up for sale.

Noun Phrase Order

  • Determiner + adjectives + nouns as modifiers + head

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