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Noun Phrase

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English

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.

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.

The spotted puppy is a noun phrase - Pixabay

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

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, the brown alpaca, Study SmarterUse noun phrases to describe the alpaca - Pixabay

  • '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?

  • '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:

The man on the balcony.

The child across the table.

These are expanded noun phrases that contain prepositions (on and across) which 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.

Let's look at each of these now.

Determiners

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.

Adjectives

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

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.

Add your text here...

  • '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 StudySmarterThe noun phrase 'high school diploma' specifies the type of the diploma the students receive - Pixabay

Postmodifiers in noun phrases

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

Complements

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?

Answers:

  • 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.

Answers:

  • 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.

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.

An expanded noun phrase is more descriptive and adds further meaning. An expanded noun phrase consists of the head noun and one or more adjectives and nouns.

The serene atmosphere.

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

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.

Final Noun Phrase Quiz

Question

What are noun phrases?

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Answer

Noun phrases consist of two or more words that function as a noun. They include the head noun and its modifiers.

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Question

How would you identify a noun phrase?

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Answer

 You need to identify the head noun first. The modifiers will always be around it.

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Question

What is an expanded noun phrase?


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Answer

An expanded noun phrase is made up of the head noun and one or more modifiers. They tend to be longer and more descriptive.

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Question

How can you use pronouns to identify a noun phrase?


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Answer

Try replacing the noun phrase with a pronoun. If the sentence still makes sense then this is probably a noun phrase.

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Question

Which of these is not a noun phrase? 'a brown dog', 'with animosity', 'a majestic evening'.


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Answer

'With animosity' is an adverbial phrase.

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Question

What are modifiers?


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Answer

 Modifiers are words such as articles, adjectives and prepositions which add detail to the head noun.

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Question

What is the difference between premodifiers and postmodifiers?


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Answer

Premodifiers are placed before the noun and postmodifiers after the noun.

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Question

Which of these is a premodifier? 'My', 'which', and 'nearby'?


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Answer

 'My' and 'which' are premodifiers.

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Question

What is the difference between complements and postmodifiers?


Show answer

Answer

 Complements are necessary to complete the meaning of a sentence but general postmodifiers are not.

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Question

What position do general postmodifiers usually take?


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Answer

General postmodifiers usually come after any complement.

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Question

What are the uses of a noun phrase in a sentence?


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Answer

A noun phrase can act as the subject, object or complement of a sentence.

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Question

'The red cup smashed onto the floor.' What is the use of the noun phrase in the sentence?


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Answer

'The red cup' is the noun phrase and is acting as the subject.

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Question

'The government rejected a black box approach to solving crime'. What is the use of the noun phrase in the sentence?


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Answer

 'A black box approach' is the expanded noun phrase and acts as the complement.

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Question

 'They picked up the new parcel' What is the use of the noun phrase in the sentence?


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Answer

'The new parcel' is the noun phrase and acts as the object.

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Question

Which of the following is not a noun phrase?

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Answer

quickly jumped.

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Question

Which of the following is a noun phrase?

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Answer

The sly fox.

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Question

True or false, noun phrases can act as the subject of a sentence?

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Answer

True

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Question

True or false, noun phrases can act as the object of a sentence?


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Answer

True.

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Question

Identify the noun phrase in the sentence:

'I would like to try on those blue shoes.'

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Answer

those blue shoes.

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Question

Identify the noun phrase in the sentence:

'Keep that smelly cat away from me'


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Answer

That smelly cat

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