Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Noun Phrase

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
X
Illustration You have already viewed an explanation Register now and access this and thousands of further explanations for free
English

Noun phrases consist of two or more words that function as nouns. They are made up of a noun, which is called the head word, as well as other words that modify the noun. Some linguists consider single nouns to be noun phrases too. They call them 'single-word noun phrases'.

Example:

'The spotted puppy.'

The spotted puppy example, pixabay.com

The head 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 head word / 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 the blue spine'.

In this sentence the head noun is 'book'. The pre-modifier (modifier that comes before the noun) is the article 'the'. 'With the blue spine' is the post-modifier (modifier that comes after the head noun).

How do we know that the 'book' and not the 'spine' is the head noun? 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 it try to replace the noun phrase with a pronoun, like this:

'The blue sky could be seen from the mountain'

The noun phrase is 'the blue sky'. Let's replace it with a pronoun:

'It could be seen from the mountain'. Still works right?

If the sentence makes sense after you replace the phrase with a pronoun, you can be confident that it is in fact a noun phrase. This might not work in all cases but it is useful as a general rule.

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, nouns, or prepositions which are meant to add further description.

How would you describe the picture below?

Noun Phrase, the brown alpaca, Study Smarter

  • '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. Theoretically, this addition of adjectives (noun, prepositions) could go on indefinitely.

Some other examples:

  • 'The smooth, quiet, village road'
  • 'The angry, disquieted, English teacher'

Notice that these two examples also contain a noun each. 'Village' and 'English' are nouns.

  • 'The man on the balcony'
  • 'The child across the table'

These are expanded noun phrases that contain prepositions which introduce postmodifiers. 'On' and 'across' are the prepositions.

What are the modifiers of noun phrases?

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; if it comes after it is called a postmodifier.

Premodifiers

Premodifiers are usually made up of determiners, adjectives and nouns:

Determiners

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

  • Articles: a / an, the
  • Demonstrative: this, that, these, those
  • Possessive determiners: my, your, his, her, etc.
  • Quantifiers: some, any, all, enough, no, every, etc.
  • Numerals: one, two, three, etc.
  • Interrogative words: which, what, whose

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

For example:

  • 'This book is the history textbook'

The determiner in this case is the definite article 'the' which makes a definite reference.

  • 'My fluffy cat stole the show'

In this sentence, the determiner and premodifier is the possessive determiner 'my' which makes a possessive reference.

Adjectives

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

For example:

  • 'A tremendous storm'

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

  • 'The automated job'

This noun phrase contains the head noun 'job' and two premodifiers. The definite determiner 'the' and the adjective 'automated' act as its premodifiers.

  • 'My interesting and profitable business'

This expanded noun phrase contains the head 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.

For example:

  • 'A high school diploma'

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

  • 'A silk jacket'

The noun 'silk' specifies the type of jacket.

  • 'The nineteenth-century chapel'

The noun 'nineteenth-century' specifies the era the noun 'chapel' was built.

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

Modifiers which specify time or measurement remain singular even when they are expressing a plural.

Example:

  • 'Scotland will be testing a four-day week'

Not: 'Scotland will be testing a four-days week'

  • 'He drank a two-liter wine bottle'

Not: 'He drank a two-liter wine bottle'

Post modifiers

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 (eg. place, time, possession, features, type etc.). The main difference with 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'

General postmodifiers usually come after any complement in the sentence.

'The news that she had won the Nobel Prize which appeared in several newspapers ...'.

'That she had won the Nobel Prize' comes directly after the head noun 'news'. This is the complement because it adds necessary information.

'Which appeared in several newspapers' is a general postmodifier because the noun phrase would still make sense without it.

What are the main uses of noun phrases?

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

Noun phrases as subjects

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

  • 'The yellow tennis ball flew across the court'
  • 'The furtive fox sneaked behind the fence'

objects

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

  • 'He threw the yellow tennis ball across the court'

Complements

Complements are words or phrases which are necessary to make the sentence's predicate or subject make sense.

Subject complements

These typically follow a linking verb and describe the subject of the sentence.

  • 'A man who sells yellow tennis balls'

The noun phrase 'yellow tennis balls' acts as the complement of the sentence because it is necessary for it to make sense. It comes after the linking verb 'sells'.

  • 'They considered the effectiveness of the new plan'

'The effectiveness of the new plan' is the complement. It comes right after the linking verb 'considered'.

Noun Phrase - Key takeaways

  • A noun phrase consists of two or more words that function as a noun. They include the head 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 the general postmodifiers are not necessary.
  • Expanded noun phrases consist of the head noun and one or more adjectives or nouns.
  • Noun phrases can act as subjects, objects or complements 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?

Show answer

Answer

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

Show question

Question

How would you identify a noun phrase?

Show answer

Answer

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

Show question

Question

What is an expanded noun phrase?


Show answer

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.

Show question

Question

How can you use pronouns to identify a noun phrase?


Show answer

Answer

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

Show question

Question

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


Show answer

Answer

'With animosity' is an adverbial phrase.

Show question

Question

What are modifiers?


Show answer

Answer

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

Show question

Question

What is the difference between premodifiers and postmodifiers?


Show answer

Answer

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

Show question

Question

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


Show answer

Answer

 'My' and 'which' are premodifiers.

Show question

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.

Show question

Question

What position do general postmodifiers usually take?


Show answer

Answer

General postmodifiers usually come after any complement.

Show question

Question

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


Show answer

Answer

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

Show question

Question

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


Show answer

Answer

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

Show question

Question

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


Show answer

Answer

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

Show question

Question

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


Show answer

Answer

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

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Noun Phrase quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

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