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!

intermediate
"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.

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:

Determiners

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.

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.

Possessive Nouns

Possessive nouns can be used before the head of a noun phrase as modifiers to 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.

Attributive Prepositive Adjectives

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

He wanted to buy new shoes.

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

The red cotton skirt is hers.

Noun Modifiers

Noun (pre)modifiers are optional nouns that modify another noun. They function similarly to an adjective. Take a look at some examples:

I love mushroom soup, but she's making chicken soup.

I'm looking for a car park.

Post-modifiers

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

  • prepositional phrases
  • that-clauses
  • infinitive clauses
  • participle clauses
  • relative clauses
  • adnominal adverbs

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 up 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 post-modify 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 are used to post-modify the head of a noun. Here are the examples:

the season when you arrived

the man whom I called my husband

the food that was made

the teacher who taught us math

Adnominal Adverbs

Adnominal adverbs are a kind of adverb that is used as the modifier of a noun and comes immediately after the noun or pronoun it modifies. For example:

Look at the man there!

Let's climb up that tree over here.

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

Noun Phrases Without Modifiers

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

People want fresh, local food.

I called Hanna.

Noun Phrases: Word 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

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

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 on its own. For example:

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.'

Noun Phrase Vs. Noun Clause

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 must 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

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 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

Comments

You might also like

Phrases

Phrases are comprised of one or more words that form a meaningful grammatical unit. They are one of the most important elements of English grammar.

Verb Phrases

It's time to learn how to identify the verb phrase in a sentence. Learning about verb phrases is essential in speaking and writing without mistakes.

Prepositional Phrases

What are prepositional phrases? Generally, as its name requires, prepositional phrases are phrases made of prepositions. To get to know them, read the article.

Adjective Phrases

Phrases are two or more words that can function as specific parts of speech. Adjective phrases are groups of words that function as adjectives.

Adverbial Phrases

Adverbial phrases are made of two or more words and are used as the adverb of the sentence. In this lesson, you will get to know phrasal verbs.

Gerunds

Gerunds are words derived from verbs that act as nouns. All gerunds include a verb and -ing. In this lesson, we will learn more about them.

Download LanGeek app for free