A noun phrase or nominal phrase (abbreviated NP) is a phrase which has a noun (or indefinite pronoun) as its head word, or which performs the same grammatical function as such a phrase. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently occurring phrase type.
What is a noun phrase?
A noun phrase is a phrase which includes:
- a noun (also called head)
- and optionally modifiers.
- Love is a beautiful feeling. (Love is a noun phrase without modifiers. However, a beautiful feeling is a noun phrase that includes a noun, feeling, and the determiner a and the adjective beautiful)
- My house is over there. (My house is a noun phrase which consists of the noun house and a modifier – the possessive adjective my)
Possible noun modifiers
A noun phrase may optionally contain noun modifiers. If these modifiers are placed before the noun they are called pre-modifiers. However, if they are placed after the noun, they are called post-modifiers. Possible noun modifiers include the following:
- articles (the, a),
- demonstratives (this, that)
- numerals (two, five, etc.)
- possessives (my, their, etc.)
- quantifiers (some, many, etc.).
In English, determiners are usually placed before the noun;
2. adjectives (the delicious food)
3. complements, in the form of a prepositional phrase (such as: the student of physics), or a That-clause (the idea that the world is a small village )
Functions of a noun phrase
- That sophisticated woman is beautiful. (That sophisticated woman is a noun phrase that functions as a subject.)
- I like the book that you bought. (the book that you bought is a noun phrase that functions as an object.)
What Are Noun Phrases? (with Examples)
A noun phrase is a phrase that plays the role of a noun. The head word in a noun phrase will be a noun or a pronoun. In the examples below, the whole noun phrase is shaded and the head word is in bold.
- I like singing in the bath.
- I know the back streets.
- I’ve met the last remaining chief.
Compare the three examples above to these:
- I like it.
- I know them.
- I’ve met him.
In these three examples, the words in bold are all pronouns. The ability to replace the noun phrases in the first three examples with a pronoun proves that the shaded texts are functioning as nouns, making them noun phrases.
Examples of Noun Phrases
Noun phrases are extremely common. A noun with any sort of modifier (including just a number or an article) is a noun phrase. Here are some examples of noun phrases:
- The best defense against the atom bomb is not to be there when it goes off. (Anon)
(In this example, there is a noun phrase within a noun phrase. The noun phrase
the atom bomb
- is the
object of the prepositionagainst
- . The
prepositional phraseagainst the atom bomb
- I don’t have a bank account, because I don’t know my mother’s maiden name. (Paula Poundstone)
(In this example, both noun phrases are
- The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it. (Dudley Moore, 1935-2002)
(In this example, the first noun phrase is the subject, and the second is a
- Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. (Albert Einstein, 1879-1955)