Noun Phrase

Phrases are an essential part of the English language and are the building blocks of all sentences. There are five main types of phrases in English: noun phrases, adjective phrases, verb phrases, adverb phrases, and prepositional phrases. Today we will be looking at noun phrases

Get started Sign up for free
Noun Phrase Noun Phrase

Create learning materials about Noun Phrase with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account

Millions of flashcards designed to help you ace your studies

Sign up for free

Convert documents into flashcards for free with AI!

Table of contents

    This article will introduce noun phrases, explain the different types, discuss noun phrase modifiers and provide plenty of examples.

    What is a noun phrase?

    A noun phrase is a group of words that acts as a noun. Noun phrases typically consist of two or more words, including a noun, and other words that modify the noun, such as an article (e.g. a, an, the), a quantifier (a number), or a possessive (e.g. his, hers, theirs). Some linguists consider single nouns to be noun phrases too. They call them 'single-word noun phrases'.

    The spotted puppy.

    Noun phrase, Image of spotty dog, StudySmarterFig. 1 - 'spotted puppy' is a noun phrase.

    In this example, the head noun (or main noun) is 'puppy', and its modifiers are the article 'the' and the adjective 'spotted'.

    How do I identify a noun phrase?

    The two main parts of a noun phrase are the main noun and its modifiers. The modifiers can be placed before or after the noun. Once you have identified the noun, it is easy to identify the modifiers. Just look at what is next to the noun!

    He delivered the book with a blue spine.

    In this sentence, the head noun is 'book'. The premodifier (modifier that comes before the noun) is the article 'the'. 'With a blue spine' is the postmodifier (modifier that comes after the head noun).

    How do we know that the head noun is the 'book' and not the 'spine'? Because the spine gives extra detail about the book rather than the other way around.

    When confused, try to find out which noun introduces the main idea in the sentence. Any other nouns will simply add detail to the main noun.

    The tall tree with oranges.

    The head noun here is 'tree'. 'The tall' are premodifiers, whereas 'with oranges' is the postmodifier. How do we know that 'tree' is the main noun? Because the noun 'oranges' does not introduce an idea but rather defines what kind of tree it is.

    When trying to identify noun phrases, a useful technique is to replace the noun phrase with a pronoun, like this:

    The blue sky could be seen from the mountain.

    It could be seen from the mountain.

    If the sentence still makes sense after replacing the phrase with a pronoun (like in the above example), you can be confident that it is a noun phrase. This might not work in all cases, but it is useful as a general rule.

    Types of noun phrases

    Let's take a look at some different types of noun phrases.

    Expanded noun phrases

    An expanded noun phrase is a noun phrase that includes additional words, such as adjectives, prepositional phrases, or relative clauses, to provide more information and detail about the noun it modifies.

    Expanded noun phrases can vary significantly in length. They can be as short as two words (the minimum accepted by most grammarians to form a phrase), or they could be much longer and contain many pre and post modifiers.

    Expanded noun phrases provide additional information in a sentence. They are made up of the main noun and one or more adjectives, pronouns, or prepositions which are meant to add further description.

    How would you describe the picture below?

    Noun phrase, image of an alpaca, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Use noun phrases to discuss the alpaca.

    'The alpaca'. Yes, you could say that. This is a simple noun phrase. It contains the main noun 'alpaca' and the premodifier 'the'. But how would we make it into an expanded noun phrase? Here are examples of expanded noun phrases:

    • 'The brown alpaca'. Now, this is an expanded noun phrase because we have added the adjective 'brown', which adds further detail. Could we make it longer? Of course!

    • 'The brown, smiling, curious alpaca'. This expanded noun phrase contains several adjectives that add more and more layers of detail to the noun.

    Some further examples of expanded noun phrases include

    The man on the balcony.

    The child across the table.

    These are expanded noun phrases that contain prepositions (on and across) that introduce postmodifiers (the balcony and the table).

    Singular noun phrases

    A singular noun phrase is a phrase that only contains one word, which must be a noun or a pronoun. Some linguists suggest these aren't phrases at all, whereas others argue that nouns/pronouns on their own can work as noun phrases.

    Beth was hungry.

    Fathima left early.

    It is cold.

    Noun phrase modifiers

    Noun phrases come with words that are placed either before or after the main noun. These are called modifiers. If the modifier comes before the main noun, it is called a premodifier, and if it comes after, it is called a postmodifier.

    Premodifiers in noun phrases

    Premodifiers come before a noun and are usually made up of determiners, adjectives, and nouns.


    Determiners will usually come first in a noun phrase (e.g. 'the pink skirt'). Determiners include:

    • Articles, e.g. a / an, the

    • Demonstrative, e.g. this, that, these, those

    • Possessive determiners, e.g. my, your, his, her,

    • Quantifiers, e.g. some, any, all, enough, no, every

    • Numerals, e.g. one, two, three

    Determiners might seem insignificant, but they are paramount to expressing the kind of reference the noun phrase makes.

    This book is a history textbook.

    The determiner, in this case, is the demonstrative 'this', which makes it clear exactly which book is a history book.


    Premodifiers also include adjectives. Adjectives are parts of speech which are meant to define and add detail to a noun.

    A tremendous storm

    This noun phrase contains the main noun 'storm' and two premodifiers. The indefinite determiner 'a' and the adjective 'tremendous' act as the premodifiers.

    My interesting and profitable business

    This expanded noun phrase contains the main noun 'business' and three premodifiers. The possessive determiner 'my' and the adjectives 'interesting' and 'profitable' act as its premodifiers.

    As you can see, premodifiers often work together when forming noun phrases.


    Nouns can also act as the premodifiers of noun phrases. They tend to explain specific attributes of the noun, such as material, era, type, texture etc.

    A high school diploma

    The noun 'high school' specifies the type of diploma.

    'A silk jacket'

    The noun 'silk' specifies the type of jacket.

    Identifying nouns as premodifiers can be difficult because you run the risk of confusing them with the main noun. Make sure to test whether the noun adds more information to another noun or if it is the noun that the other elements work to define.

    Modifiers that specify time or measurement remain singular even when expressing a plural. For example, 'Scotland will be testing a four-day week', not 'Scotland will be testing a four-days week'.

    Noun phrase Image of students receiving their diplomas StudySmarterFig. 3 - The noun phrase 'high school diploma' specifies the type of diploma the students receive.

    Postmodifiers in noun phrases

    Postmodifiers are placed after the head noun. They include complements and more general postmodifiers.


    Complements include prepositional phrases or clauses and are placed immediately after the noun. As their name suggests, they complement the noun. They are necessary to complete the meaning.

    A rise in house prices (prepositional phrase = 'in house prices')

    A feeling of uncontrollable excitement (prepositional phrase = 'of uncontrollable excitement)

    The notion that the government should take immediate action (clause = 'that the government should take immediate action ')

    In all these cases, removing the complement would dissolve the meaning, and the noun phrase would not make sense anymore.

    General postmodifiers

    General postmodifiers consist of adverb phrases, prepositional phrases, and clauses. General postmodifiers give additional or more specific information about the noun (e.g. place, time, possession, features, type etc.).

    The main difference between general postmodifiers and complements is that general postmodifiers are not necessary for the noun phrase to make sense.

    A new school nearby

    A friendly man with dark hair

    The brand new hoover she bought yesterday

    The woman in the white trousers giving a lecture

    Can you identify the general postmodifiers in these sentences?


    • nearby
    • with dark hair
    • she bought yesterday
    • giving a lecture

    General postmodifiers usually come after any complement in the sentence.

    Look at the following sentence, for example:

    'There is a new supermarket in our town just next to the car park.'

    'in our town' comes directly after the main noun 'supermarket'. It is the complement as it adds necessary information.

    'just next to the car park' is a general postmodifier because the noun phrase would still make sense without it.

    Uses of noun phrases

    Noun phrases can have several uses in a clause/sentence. Specifically, they can be used as the subject or object.

    Noun phrases as the subject

    The subject of a sentence identifies who does the action of the verb:

    The yellow tennis ball flew across the court

    The sneaky fox hid behind the fence

    In both of these sentences, the noun phrase is the subject of the sentence and is completing the action.

    Noun phrases as the object

    The object in a sentence identifies what/who receives the verb's action.

    He threw the yellow tennis ball across the court.

    In this sentence, the subject is now 'he', and the 'yellow tennis ball' has become the object.

    Noun phrase examples

    By now you should have a good idea of what noun phrases are. Let's look at some example sentences to see if you can identify the noun phrase in each. Remember, there may be more than one noun phrase in a sentence!

    • The tall towering tree began to fall.
    • The cheeky monkey was eating a ripe banana.
    • That car is cool.
    • Lewis hated maths.
    • She bought a new warm coat.
    • She has eleven cats.


    • The tall towering tree
    • The cheeky monkey and a ripe banana
    • That car
    • Lewis
    • a new warm coat
    • eleven cats

    Noun Phrase - Key takeaways

    • A noun phrase consists of two or more words that function as a noun; this includes the main noun and its pre and post-modifiers.
    • Premodifiers include determiners, adjectives, and nouns.
    • Postmodifiers include complements and general postmodifiers. The key difference between the two is that complements are necessary to complete the meaning of the noun phrase, whereas general postmodifiers are not necessary.
    • Expanded noun phrases consist of the main noun and one or more adjectives or nouns.
    • Noun phrases can act as subjects or objects within a sentence.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Noun Phrase

    What is a noun phrase?

    A noun phrase consists of two or more words that act as the noun in the sentence. A noun phrase consists of the head noun and its pre- and post- modifiers.

    What is an expanded noun phrase?

    An expanded noun phrase is a noun phrase that includes additional words, such as adjectives, prepositional phrases, or relative clauses, to provide more information and detail about the noun it modifies. An expanded noun phrase consists of the head noun and one or more adjectives and nouns.

    What is a noun phrase example?

    The serene atmosphere.

    The head noun is the 'atmosphere' and the premodifiers are the determiner 'the' and the adjective 'serene'.

    What is a noun phrase in a sentence?

    An example includes: The blue ball rolled along the pavement. 'The blue ball' is the noun phrase which acts as the subject of the sentence.

    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team English Teachers

    • 10 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App
    Sign up with Email

    Get unlimited access with a free StudySmarter account.

    • Instant access to millions of learning materials.
    • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams, AI tools and more.
    • Everything you need to ace your exams.
    Second Popup Banner