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!
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.
Here, 'my' is a determiner and 'my friend' is a noun phrase.
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.
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.
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:
- possessive nouns
- possessive pronouns
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
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:
The head noun is 'bag' NOT 'chips', therefore we should use a singular verb for the sentence.