Noun Phrases in English Grammar

Noun Phrases in English Grammar

When a group of noun 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

Noun Phrases

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. For example, when we say 'man' which is a noun, it can refer to any man. But when we say 'the blond man in suit' it means we are making the noun 'man' more specific. Whatever we add to modify a noun, it's called a 'modifier'.

the red sports car

Here, 'the red sports car' is a noun phrase and 'the red sports' modifies the noun 'car'. So they are called 'modifiers'.

Noun Phrase: Definition

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

Noun Phrase: Structure

A noun phrase can be just a noun or a pronoun.

People want fresh , local food .

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

Determiner + Noun

A noun phrase can have as many modifiers as it wants. It can be as small as 'determiner + noun' or it can have up to ten different modifiers.

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.

Adjective + Noun

A noun phrase can also be comprised of an adjective and a noun.

new shoes

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

Quantifier + Determiner + Noun

Sometimes a quantifier can be one of the dependent words a noun phrase possess.

All these houses are up for sale .

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

Noun Phrase: Order

determiner adjectives nouns as modifiers head

A broken wooden door

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

His light green silk scarf

His (determiner) + light (adjective) + green (adjective) + silk (adjective) + scarf (head).

Noun Phrase: Modifiers

Remember that noun phrase is a noun + modifiers. Modifiers can come before or after the noun. Those that come before a noun are:

  • articles
  • possessive nouns
  • possessive pronouns
  • determiners/adjectives
  • participles

a dog , the cat , an olive

(The-a-an) are the articles.

Alice's cat , My friend's dog

(Alice's - my friend's) are called the possessive nouns; (my) is also called possessive adjective.

our house , his coat

that cat , these olives , black cars

(That-these) are called demonstrative determiners. (Black) is adjective modifier.

the sleeping cat , the trained dog

(The) is the article, (sleeping) is present participle modifier and (trained) is past participle modifier.

Modifiers that come after a noun are:

  • prepositional phrases
  • adjective clauses
  • participle phrases
  • infinitives

the house behind the fence , that room in the back

(In the back) and (behind the fence) are called a prepositional phrases.

the dog that keeps barking , the house that is painted red

(painted red) is an adjective clause.

the dog trained at the academy , the cat sleeping in the shade

(Trained) is the past participle, (sleeping) is the present participle.

a dog to train , a cat to chase the mice

(To train - to chase) are the infinitives.

Noun Phrases: Functions

Noun phrases can have different functions in a sentence. A noun phrase can act as the subject of a sentence.

That red house is up for sale .

Here, the noun phrase 'that red house' is the subject of the sentence.

A noun phrase can be a direct object of a sentence.

We should buy that red house .

Here, the noun phrase 'that red house' is the object of the sentence.

A noun phrase can be the object of a preposition.

We want to live in that red house very much .

Here, the noun phrase 'that red house' is the object of the preposition.

A noun phrase can act as an indirect object in a sentence.

She gave the little boy a toy .

Here, the noun phrase 'the little boy' is the indirect object.

A Noun Phrase within a Noun Phrase

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

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'.

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'.

Now look at this example:

a big bag of chips

Here, 'a big bag of chips' is a noun phrase, but the 'of chips' is NOT a noun phrase. Because a noun phrase has to be a group of words. The word 'chips' has no modifiers, so it can't be a noun phrase.

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 .

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

You might also like

Possessive Nouns

Possessive structures have many functions like showing ownership or belonging. With the help of apostrophe 's', we can make a possessive noun. Let's start!

Read more

Abstract and Concrete Nouns

Based on what we can or cannot perceive something with our five senses, we can categorize nouns into two groups: abstract and common nouns. Start learning!

Read more

Verbal Nouns

Sometimes we can change a verb and make it into a noun. One of the most common ways of doing this is adding the suffix -ing. Let's see what verbal noun are!

Read more

Gender Specific Nouns

Legends say that the famous Dracula was not a Count, but actually was a Countess! Shocking? Here we will look at gender specific nouns like Count/Countess!

Read more

Plurale Tantum

Here, we will discuss some nouns in the English language that are always used as a plural noun, i.e. they don't have a singular form. Let's get to it!

Read more