Nouns: Advanced

The noun phrase:

  • The noun phrase is a versatile syntactic element of a sentence. In simple terms, the noun phrase is formed by a noun or pronoun and all the other words which make it a phrase unit. So it can be as short as a single noun or it can be a very long, complex syntactical unit.
    For example:

    Dogs run fast.
    They run fast.
    Racing dogs run fast.
    All racing dogs run fast.
    Nearly all my racing dogs run fast.

  • In the examples above all the additional words in the noun phrase precede the noun. However, very often the additional words precede and follow the noun.
    For example:

    The racing dogs from England run fast.
    The racing dogs which are placed behind the leader run fast.

  • The central noun around which the noun phrase is formed is known as the head - this is the noun to which all the other information in the noun phrase relates.
  • All noun phrases, whether short and simple or long and complicated, can be categorized as having up to four component parts: the head noun, the determiner, the premodifier and the postmodifier, A noun phrase could simply be a single noun, or it could be a very long noun phrase with several premodifiers and several postmodifiers. The list below shows the form that determiners, premodifiers and postmodifiers can take:

  • Determiners: the, a, his, her, this, that, some, many, all
    Premodifiers: adjectives - a big red bus
      adverbs - an extremely late bus
      nouns - a London city bus
    Postmodifiers: finite relative clauses - the chocolate that I love eating
      non-finite 'ing' clauses - the chocolate oozing through my fingers
      non-finite 'ed' clauses - the chocolate left on my chin
      non-finite infinitive clauses - the chocolate to use today
      adjectives - the chocolate, smooth and sensuous
      prepositional phrases - the chocolate on my fingers

    The table below illustrates this by showing how the head noun ladies can be expanded through pre and post modification.

    Determiner Premodifier Head Noun Postmodifier
    The   ladies  
    Some elegant ladies  
      Elegant ladies who lunch
    Many elegant, chic ladies of a certain age, who lunch.
    Those lovely ladies lunching at leisure

Noun phrases in texts:

  • Below is an extract from Louis de Berniere's Captain Corelli's Mandolin with the noun phrases highlighted in colour. Look at them and see the differences between the shorter and longer noun phrases and the differing functions they play in the text.
  Dr Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse. He attended a surprisingly easy calving, lanced one abscess, extracted a molar, dosed one lady of easy virtue with Salvarsan, performed an unpleasant but spectacularly fruitful enema, and had produced a miracle by a feat of medical prestidigitation.  

Nouns subject mainpage      Teaching Implications      Test yourself online

You are currently here: Word Classes > Nouns > Advanced. The next page in this section is Nouns Teaching Implications.