Noun phrases

Noun phrases are phrases which have as their Head word a noun or pronoun.

Note that the National Curriculum stipulates that phrases should have at least two words, though it concedes that "Some grammarians recognise one-word phrases, so that foxes are multiplying would contain the noun foxes acting as the head of the noun phrase foxes."

At its simplest a noun phrase can consist of just one word – the Head noun (or pronoun) by itself – but other elements can be added to build up bigger and bigger units. The following are all noun phrases with boxes as the Head word:

  • boxes
  • those boxes
  • those big red boxes
  • those big red boxes in the garage
  • those big red boxes in the garage that I've asked you to throw out dozens of times

If determiners (the, this, those) are present they always occur before the noun, but as the examples above show, other kinds of modifiers (such as adjectives, preposition phrases or relative clauses) can come before or after the noun.

Activity

Here are some examples of noun phrases taken from our corpus. Each example is highlighted and marked in square brackets. When you refresh the page you will see new examples.

Noun phrases can occur inside other noun phrases, as you can see in some (not all!) of these sentences.

  • certainly [some substances]  [S2A-027 #98]
  • [A lightweight radio] has saved [the Norwegians] [more than twenty pounds] [S2B-024 #46]
  • Not probably known [she] was [only twelve] at [the time]  [S2A-045 #83]
  • Broadly speaking, there are [three types of [theories]] in [scientific subjects]. [W2A-035 #16]
  • [PM programmers] have inherited [the mistaken belief] (from [Windows]) that [they] are more difficult to write and debug than ‘[normal’ programs]. [W2B-036 #55]

Head word activity: try to identify the Head word in the above NPs!

Listen on SoundCloud

Welcome!

Englicious is totally free for everyone to use!

But in exchange, we ask that you register for an account on our site.

If you’ve already registered, you can log in straight away.

Since this is your first visit today, you can see this page by clicking the button below.

CLOSE

Englicious (C) Survey of English Usage, UCL, 2012-21 | Supported by the AHRC and EPSRC. | Privacy | Cookies