Noun phrase

Those five beautiful shiny Jonathan apples sitting on the chair. This is a noun phrase of which apples is the head. "They" could be substituted for the whole noun phrase, as in "they are delicious".

In grammar, a noun phrase, nominal phrase, or nominal group[1] (abbreviated NP) is a phrase based on a noun, pronoun, or other noun-like word (nominal) optionally accompanied by modifiers such as adjectives.[2]

Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, but some languages like Tuscarora and Cayuga have been argued[by whom?] to lack this construct.



Noun phrases normally consist of a head noun, which is optionally modified ("premodified" if the modifier appears before the noun; "postmodified" if the modifier follows the noun). Possible modifiers include:

  • determiners: articles (the, a), demonstratives (this, that), numerals (two, five, etc.), possessives (my, their, etc.), and quantifiers (some, many, etc.). In English, determiners are usually placed before the noun;
  • adjectives (the red ball); or
  • complements, in the form of a prepositional phrase (such as: the student of physics), or a That-clause (the claim that the earth is round);
  • modifiers; pre-modifiers if before the noun and usually either as nouns (the university student) or adjectives (the beautiful lady), or post-modifiers if after the noun. A postmodifier may be either a prepositional phrase (the man with long hair) or a relative clause (the house where I live). The difference between modifiers and complements is that complements complete the meaning of the noun; complements are necessary, whereas modifiers are optional because they add information about the noun.

Noun phrases can make use of an apposition structure. This means that the elements in the noun phrase are not in a head-modifier relationship, but in a relation of equality. An example of this is I, Caesar, declare ..., where "Caesar" and "I" do not modify each other.[citation needed]

The head of a noun phrase can be implied, as in "The Bold and the Beautiful" or Robin Hood's "rob from the rich and give to the poor"; an implied noun phrase is most commonly used as a generic plural referring to human beings.[3] Another example of noun phrase with implied head is I choose the cheaper of the two.[citation needed]

That noun phrases can be headed by elements other than nouns—for instance, pronouns (They came) or determiners (I'll take these)—has given rise to the postulation of a determiner phrase instead of a noun phrase. The English language is stricter than some other languages with regard to possible noun phrase heads. German, for instance, allows adjectives as heads of noun phrases[citation needed], as in Gib mir die Alten for Give me the olds (i.e. old ones).[citation needed] The Scandinavian languages can do the same, as in Swedish: Ge mig de gamla for Give me the old (ones).

In addition to pronouns and demonstratives, numerals and adjectives may function as the head of the noun phrase, and take modifiers as a noun would. For example, The Secret Seven, something wild, the first few, we three, all this, only you, just mine.[4]

Grammatical unit

In English, for some purposes, noun phrases can be treated as single grammatical units. This is most noticeable in the syntax of the English genitive case. In a phrase such as The king of Sparta's wife, the possessive clitic "-'s" is not added to the king who actually has the wife, but instead to Sparta, as the end of the whole phrase. The clitic modifies the entire phrase the king of Sparta.[citation needed]

Grammatical function

Noun phrases are prototypically used for acts of reference as in "The blonde girl shouts" or "She kissed the man". Also possible, but found less often, is the use of noun phrases for predication, as in "Suzy is a blonde girl". Note that in English the use of the copula is indicates the use of a noun phrase as predicate, but other languages may not require the use of the copula. Finally, noun phrases are used for identifications like "The murderer was the butler", where no ascription is taking place. The possibility for a noun phrase to play the role of subject and predicate leads to the constructions of syllogisms.[citation needed]

See also



  1. ^ The term nominal phrase is sometimes preferred because they are not restricted to nouns, but may be pronouns, numerals, or other noun-like words.
  2. ^ "Term: Noun Phrases". Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  3. ^ Arnold Zwicky. "Starting out on the wrong foot". Language Log. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  4. ^ George Morley, 2000. Syntax in functional grammar: San introduction to lexicogrammar in systemic linguistics, p54.


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • noun phrase — noun a phrase that can function as the subject or object of a verb • Syn: ↑nominal phrase, ↑nominal • Hypernyms: ↑phrase * * * noun Usage: sometimes capitalized N&P : a syntactic element (as a word, phrase, or clause) that can be u …   Useful english dictionary

  • noun phrase — noun ,phrase noun count a phrase that is used in a sentence in the same way that a noun is used . In the sentence Camping in the rain is not my idea of fun, the phrase Camping in the rain is a noun phrase …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • noun phrase — noun A phrase that can serve as the subject or the object of a verb; it is usually headed by a noun, (including pronouns), with any associated dependents such as determiners or modifiers. ;Examples , The term “noun phrase” itself , “Fred” in… …   Wiktionary

  • noun phrase — noun phrases N COUNT A noun phrase is the same as a noun group …   English dictionary

  • noun phrase — ► NOUN Grammar ▪ a word or group of words that function in a sentence as subject, object, or prepositional object …   English terms dictionary

  • noun phrase — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms noun phrase : singular noun phrase plural noun phrases linguistics a phrase that is used in a sentence in the same way that a noun is used. In the sentence Camping in the rain is not my idea of fun , the phrase …   English dictionary

  • noun phrase — noun Usage: often capitalized N&P Date: 1923 a phrase formed by a noun and all its modifiers and determiners; broadly any syntactic element (as a clause, clitic, pronoun, or zero element) with a noun s function (as the subject of a verb or the… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • ˈnoun ˌphrase — noun [C] linguistics a phrase that is used in a sentence in the same way that a noun is used …   Dictionary for writing and speaking English

  • noun phrase — noun Grammar a word or group of words containing a noun and functioning in a sentence as subject, object, or prepositional object …   English new terms dictionary

  • noun phrase — Gram. a construction that functions syntactically as a noun, consisting of a noun and any modifiers, as all the men in the room who are reading books, or of a noun substitute, as a pronoun. [1950 55] * * * …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.