Noun Phrases for intermediate learners

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!

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"Noun Phrases" in English Grammar

What Are Noun Phrases?

Noun phrases are groups of words that function as a noun in a sentence. They typically consist of a noun, which is the headword of the phrase, and any modifiers or determiners that provide additional information about the noun.

Structure of a Noun Phrase

Noun phrases include a head noun , which is the main noun that the phrase refers to, and any modifiers that provide additional information about the noun.
Modifiers in a noun phrase can come before or after the head noun. Pre-modifiers are modifiers that come before the head noun, while post-modifiers come after the head noun. These modifiers can be adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, or other types of words that describe or modify the noun in some way.

Pre-modifiers

As mentioned above, pre-modifiers come before the head noun and modify it. The following list represents different kinds of pre-modifiers:

Now, we will discuss each of them in more detail.

Possessive Nouns

Possessive nouns are used to indicate possession or ownership of something or someone, or to show the relationship between people. Possessive nouns are typically used as pre-modifiers before the head noun in a noun phrase. For example:

My sister's partner apologized and said he could not come.

Haven't you seen Sarah's book shop? It's so small, and cozy and you can find any book in it.

Here, the 'book shop' is the compound head noun and 'Sarah's' is the possessive noun modifying it.

Noun Modifiers

Some nouns can function as modifiers within a noun phrase, providing additional information about the head noun. These nouns modify the head noun in a similar way to adjectives or other modifiers. Look at the examples below:

Dad has cooked us a tomato soup.

Here, 'tomato' is a noun modifying 'soup'.

Have you ever tried Pesto Pasta?

Attributive Predicative Adjectives

Adjectives can be used to modify the head noun in a noun phrase by providing additional information about its qualities, characteristics, or attributes. For example:

Hannah and I wanted to watch a comedy movie.

That blue silk robe is mine, Jessie.

Determiners

Determiners are a type of word that can be used as pre-modifiers in a noun phrase to provide information about the head noun. Determiners indicate the specificity, quantity, or possession of the head noun Look at the examples below:

Those cats look so cute and fluffy.

As you can see, 'those' is a determiner that indicates specificity and 'cats' is the head noun.

You left your book at my place.

Here, 'my' is a determiner that shows possession and 'place' is the head noun.

Post-modifiers

As mentioned above, some modifiers come after the head noun and describe it. Below is a list of the most common post-modifiers in English:

Now, let us examine each closely:

Non-finite Clauses

As you may know, non-finite clauses are subordinate clauses that do not have a specific tense or subject. They are typically formed using infinitives or participles.
Non-finite clauses can serve a variety of functions within a sentence, such as acting as the subject or object of a verb, or providing additional information about the main clause. Look at the examples below to see how 'non-finite' clauses can be used to modify the head noun:

A place to live in peacefully is what she needs right now.

Here, an infinitive has been used as a post-modifiers to describe the head noun which is 'place'.

Look at that fluffy dog lying under the window.

Here, a present participle is modifying the head noun 'dog'.

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases can be used to modify the head noun in a noun phrase by providing information about its location, time, or other related details. Prepositional phrases are formed using a preposition followed by a noun or pronoun, which is known as the object of the preposition. Take a look at the following examples:

Somebody quiet down that dog in the back of the house!

No one has ever been in that room in the garden.

Relative Clauses

A relative clause is a type of clause that provides additional information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence. Relative clauses are introduced by a relative pronoun or a relative adverb. Relative clauses can function as either restrictive or non-restrictive clauses. Look at the following examples:

The dog that bit me yesterday was in the streets today.

A restrictive relative clause

My sister, who is a doctor, is coming to visit us next week.

A non-restrictive relative clause.

Functions

Noun phrases can serve different functions. Look at the list below:

Now, let us see examples of how a noun phrase can fulfill these functions:

The fluffy dog is moving its tail. (As the subject)

I don't need many people around me. (As the object)

It seems such a long time since we last talked. (As the subject complement)

My girlfriend cooked me a delicious meal. (As the object complement)

Warning!

A noun phrase is different from a noun clause in that a noun clause has a verb whereas a noun phrase does not have a verb. Compare the following examples:

Those that stay motivated are better at handling life's hardships. (Noun clause)

The red cotton dress was torn apart. (Noun phrase)

Tip!

It might come in handy to know that a noun phrase can sometimes have only one noun with no modifiers. Look:

She texted Archie.

Here, 'Archie' is a noun phrase and is the object of the sentence.

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