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Noun Phrase Definition and Function with Examples

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Noun Phrase Definition and Function with Examples

Noun Phrase Definition

A noun phrase is a group of words (two or more) in a complete sentence or a large phrase that together works as a single noun in a sentence.  The noun being described in a noun phrase is called the head of that noun phrase.  A noun phrase comprises a noun (or pronoun) and modifiers that can come before or after a noun (or pronoun). 

Noun + Modifier or Modifier + Noun = Noun Phrase

Different Structures of Noun Phrase


A noun phrase consists of at least two elements, i.e., a noun with at least one other element, i.e., a determiner.  The determiner which combines with a noun and make a noun phrase may be either 

1.  A definite or an indefinite article (a, an, the)
    A child is eating an apple.

2. Or a question word (who, what, how, etc.)

3. Or a word that shows possession (my, our, your, etc.)
    This was my own watch.

4. Or a quantifier (no, few, a few, etc.)
    There is no water left.

5. Demonstrative words (this, these, that, those)
    Is that the man he told us about?

6. Or maybe a numeral ordinal or cardinal (one, two, etc. or first, second, etc.)
I have three apples.

7. Prepositional Phrases
   The car on the road is mine.

The following are some essential structures of a noun phrase.  

Structure 1: Determiner + noun
Example: The boy, a boy, an apple, our friends

Structure 2: Determiner + modifier(adjective) + noun
Example: The intelligent boy, a tall man, some white rice

Structure 3: Determiner + noun + extension.
Example: The boy in this school

Structure 4: Determiner + modifier(adjective) + noun + extension
Example: The intelligent boy in this school

Structure 5: Quantifier + Determiner + Noun
Example: All these clothes are made by my mother.

We place words in a noun phrase in a specific order.  The determiners (predeterminers), numeral (cardinal and ordinal), and quantifiers usually come first, then adjective then noun as a modifier (if there is any) then the head or main noun.  For example

A black man
(here "a" is a determiner, "black" as an adjective, and man is the head

A large iron ax (A=determiner, larger=adjective, iron=noun as a modifier and ax is the principal or head noun)

Modifiers usually come before a noun, including articles, determiner, adjective, participle, possessive pronouns.

Some modifiers that come after a noun that makes a noun phrase include infinitive, prepositional phrases, participle phrases.

Noun Phrases Examples

The following sentences contain noun phrases that are written in bold.
  • That larger stone is very heavy.
  • Don't pick those slices of bread.
  • Look, there is a big, good-looking dog in the field.
  • The two little children ran towards their mother.
  • I have been walking with him all morning.
  • Our math teacher is a kind man.
  • That handsome man laughed.
  • The little boy laughed when he saw his father.
  • The young couple forgot to pay for the ticket.
  • My closet friend bought a new blouse yesterday.
  • This large house was sold by my friend.
  • Heavy snow had covered the whole village.
  • The highest quality fruits are grown in this village.
  • Every new subject is complicated.
  • I wasn't in a reasonable mood.

Difference Between a Noun and a Noun Phrase

Both noun and noun phrases do the same function in a sentence.  A noun is a single word that names an entity (person and creature etc.) or a substance or a process.  But a noun phrase is composed of two or more words that do a single noun function in a sentence.  See the following examples of a noun and a noun phrase.

Noun: Monkey frightens me at night.
Noun Phrase: This Black monkey frightens me at night.

Noun: Clouds suggested rain.
Noun Phrase: Those dark clouds suggested rain.

Pronoun: He ran and picked up the girl.
Noun Phrase: That older man ran and picked up the girl.

Pronoun: Do you know him?
Noun Phrase: Do you know that boy sitting on the wall?

Noun: They might have taken tickets.
Noun Phrase: They might have taken the night train tickets.

Functions of Noun Phrase with Examples

There are three possible positions for a noun phrase in a sentence.  Noun phrase in a sentence can be the subject (i.e., doing the action express by the verb), object (receive the action expressed by the verb), or complement (a word or group of words that complete or make any modification to the subject or object ) of a sentence.  For example

Our school's cricket team won the final match.  (Noun phrase as the subject)
The teacher awarded all the intelligent students.  (Noun phrase as the object)

His ambition is to own this house.  (the noun phrase to own this house is the complement of this sentence)

If a noun phrase as a complement comes before the verb, it is called the subject complement.  It is an object complement if it comes in the object's place.


Further Examples of a Noun Phrase as a Subject, Object, and Complement

  • Her lack of manner amazed me.
      (Noun phrase "Her lack of manner" is the subject of  the verb amazed)

  • The old lady laughed.  (Noun phrase as a subject)
  • He has elected him captain.  (Object complement)
  • He kicked Ahmad's leg hard.  (Noun phrase as object)
  • He wants to go to school.  (Noun phrase as object)
  • She brought two cups of tea.  (Direct object of the verb brought)
  • He has lent my brother his phone.  (Indirect Object)
  • It is a very good idea.  (Subject complement)
  • She rides daily on a skateboard.
     (the noun phrase "a skateboard" is the object of the preposition on)
  • The man is in great danger.
       ("great danger" is the object of the preposition in)
  • The man wants to leave the workplace.
  • We tried hard to solve the puzzles.
  • We enjoy watching this movie.
  • A big black elephant rolled down the hill.
  • I don't know what to believe

How to Identify a Noun phrase in a Large Sentence or Phrase?

To identify a noun phrase in a sentence, look for a noun in the subject or object position in a sentence and check if any word modifies that noun.  If this is the case, then that group of words is a noun phrase.  For example, the following sentence contains a single noun.

Boys play cricket.

The noun boys act as a subject in this sentence, and it doesn't have any modifier.  The noun boys will become a noun phrase if we add any modifier.

Three boys are playing cricket.

Now the noun boys are proceeded by a modifier (three).  This is now a noun phrase.  It is important to note that a group of words, including nouns, will be called noun phrases if it belongs to one single part, i.e., subject or object, in a sentence.  Otherwise, we can't call it a noun phrase.

When replaced with a suitable pronoun, a grammatically correct phrase is a noun phrase. 


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