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.


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.

  • Perhaps with [the spectre of [slump]] approaching [Mr Lamont] might be tempted to cut [interest rates] anyway and hope [the pound] survives intact  [S2B-002 #60]
  • [A bill] will be introduced to enable [applications for [asylum in [the United Kingdom]]] to be dealt with quickly and effectively  [S2B-041 #41]
  • It is [this energy] [that] [[both women] and [men]] must tap to achieve [enlightenment] - [an enlightenment [that] does not, as in [our traditional view of [it]], transcend [sexuality] but incorporates [it] into [a greater vision]]. [W1A-008 #25]
  • [You] ’d like to have [your cake decorating book] [S1A-016 #83]
  • In fact, [it] may mean [the beginning of [a complex series of [projects involving [[modification], [up-dating] and [recommissioning]], to say [nothing of [the need to review and restructure [organisational procedures] and train and retain [staff]]]]]]. [W2A-011 #83]

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

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