Noun phrase
In grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

, a noun phrase, nominal phrase, or nominal group (abbreviated NP) is a phrase
In everyday speech, a phrase may refer to any group of words. In linguistics, a phrase is a group of words which form a constituent and so function as a single unit in the syntax of a sentence. A phrase is lower on the grammatical hierarchy than a clause....

 based on
Head (linguistics)
In linguistics, the head is the word that determines the syntactic type of the phrase of which it is a member, or analogously the stem that determines the semantic category of a compound of which it is a component. The other elements modify the head....

 a noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

, pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

, or other noun-like word (nominal) optionally accompanied by modifier
Grammatical modifier
In grammar, a modifier is an optional element in phrase structure or clause structure; the removal of the modifier typically doesn't affect the grammaticality of the sentence....

s such as adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....


Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically
Linguistic typology
Linguistic typology is a subfield of linguistics that studies and classifies languages according to their structural features. Its aim is to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversity of the world's languages...

, but some languages like Tuscarora
Tuscarora language
Tuscarora, sometimes called Ska:rù:rę, is an Iroquoian language of the Tuscarora people, spoken in southern Ontario, Canada, and northwestern New York around Niagara Falls, in the United States. The historic homeland of the Tuscarora was in eastern North Carolina, in and around the Goldsboro,...

 and Cayuga
Cayuga language
Cayuga is a Northern Iroquoian language of the Iroquois Proper subfamily, and is spoken on Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, Ontario, by around 100 Cayuga people.-Dialects:...

 have been argued 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
    Article (grammar)
    An article is a word that combines with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun. Articles specify the grammatical definiteness of the noun, in some languages extending to volume or numerical scope. The articles in the English language are the and a/an, and some...

     (the, a), demonstratives (this, that), numerals
    Numeral system
    A numeral system is a writing system for expressing numbers, that is a mathematical notation for representing numbers of a given set, using graphemes or symbols in a consistent manner....

     (two, five, etc.), possessives
    Possessive adjective
    Possessive adjectives, also known as possessive determiners, are a part of speech that modifies a noun by attributing possession to someone or something...

     (my, their, etc.), and quantifiers (some, many, etc.). In English, determiners are usually placed before the noun;
  • adjective
    In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

    s (the red ball); or
  • complements
    Complement (linguistics)
    In grammar the term complement is used with different meanings. The primary meaning is a word, phrase or clause that is necessary in a sentence to complete its meaning. We find complements that function as an argument and complements that exist within arguments.Both complements and modifiers add...

    , 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
    Relative clause
    A relative clause is a subordinate clause that modifies a noun phrase, most commonly a noun. For example, the phrase "the man who wasn't there" contains the noun man, which is modified by the relative clause who wasn't there...

    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.

The head of a noun phrase can be implied, as in "The Bold and the Beautiful
The Bold and the Beautiful
The Bold and the Beautiful is an American television soap opera created by William J. Bell and Lee Phillip Bell for CBS Daytime. It premiered on March 23, 1987....

" or Robin Hood
Robin Hood
Robin Hood was a heroic outlaw in English folklore. A highly skilled archer and swordsman, he is known for "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor", assisted by a group of fellow outlaws known as his "Merry Men". Traditionally, Robin Hood and his men are depicted wearing Lincoln green clothes....

'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. Another example of noun phrase with implied head is I choose the cheaper of the two.

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, as in Gib mir die Alten for Give me the olds (i.e. old ones).
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
The Secret Seven
The Secret Seven or "Secret Seven Society" are a fictional group of child detectives created by Enid Blyton. They appear in one of several juvenile detective series Blyton wrote....

, something wild
Something Wild
The 2008 edition of the album does contain the hidden keyboard solo that was originally at the end of "Touch Like Angel of Death", but it is at the end of the bonus song "Mass Hypnosis".-Personnel:Children of Bodom*Alexi Laiho – vocals, lead guitar...

, the first few, we three, all this, only you, just mine.

Grammatical unit

In English, for some purposes, noun phrases can be treated as single grammatical units. This is most noticeable in the syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

 of the English genitive case
Genitive case
In grammar, genitive is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun...

. In a phrase such as The king of Sparta's wife, the possessive clitic
In morphology and syntax, a clitic is a morpheme that is grammatically independent, but phonologically dependent on another word or phrase. It is pronounced like an affix, but works at the phrase level...

 "-'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.

Grammatical function

Noun phrases are prototypically used for acts of reference
Reference is derived from Middle English referren, from Middle French rèférer, from Latin referre, "to carry back", formed from the prefix re- and ferre, "to bear"...

 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
Subject (grammar)
The subject is one of the two main constituents of a clause, according to a tradition that can be tracked back to Aristotle and that is associated with phrase structure grammars; the other constituent is the predicate. According to another tradition, i.e...

 and predicate leads to the constructions of syllogism
A syllogism is a kind of logical argument in which one proposition is inferred from two or more others of a certain form...



  • Giorgi, A. & Longobardi, G. (1991) The syntax of noun phrases, Cambridge University Press, England.
  • Moro, A. (1997) The raising of predicates. Predicative noun phrases and the theory of clause structure, Cambridge University Press, England.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D.
    Rodney Huddleston
    Rodney D. Huddleston is a linguist and grammarian specializing in the study and description of English.Huddleston is the primary author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language , which presents a comprehensive descriptive grammar of English.He earned his PhD from the University of Edinburgh...

    , Pullum, Geoffrey K., et al. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language
    The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language
    The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language is a book that presents a comprehensive descriptive grammar of English. Its primary authors are Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum. It was published by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, in 2002.-Reviews:* Aarts, Bas. . Grammatici certant...

    , Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43146-8
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