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 of these sentences.

  • Oh yes [I] ’ve got [a spot on [my nose]]  [S1A-038 #85]
  • [It] was really good [S1A-042 #117]
  • [I] was only testing [your thesis] by considering [hysterical blindness] [S1B-070 #114]
  • [REF. MG/KP/29162/LEIGH] [W1B-026 #99]
  • [You] may be having [a few problems finding [a publisher for [your thesis]]], but [you] ’ll find [one] in [the end]. [W2F-016 #114]

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

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