Noun Phrase

1. What is a Noun Phrase?

A noun phrase is a group of words that work together to name and describe a person, place, thing, or idea. When we look at the structure of writing, we treat a noun phrase the same way we treat a common noun.  Like all nouns, a noun phrase can be a subject, object, or complement.


2. Examples of Noun Phrases

Example 1

The quick, brown fox jumped over the lazy dog

This noun phrase is the subject of the sentence. In other words, this sentence is about ‘the quick, brown fox.’ But, instead of just saying ‘fox,’ the rest of the noun phrase works to describe it.

Example 2

I think there’s a good pop song in pretty much anything -Kesha, pop singer

Here, the four words ‘a good pop song’ work together as a noun phrase. Instead of just saying “song,” Kesha sees “a good pop song” in anything. The phrase acts as a complement to the subject pronoun ‘there’. It is a complement because it is giving more information about the subject.

Example 3

The end of the season is hard for some athletes

The noun phrase is acting as the subject in this example.  The five words in the noun phrase work together to name a period of time that is hard for athletes.


3. Parts of a Noun Phrase

A noun phrase has two parts: a noun, and any modifiers connected to that noun. Most often, these modifiers will be adjectives, articles, and prepositional phrases. The modifiers may also be determiners.

a. Noun

A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. All noun phrases will have core noun, with modifiers connected to it.


The pirate buried his treasure on an island for retirement

The four nouns in this sentence are a person, thing, place and idea, respectively.

b. Modifier – Article

There are only three articles in modern English: a, an, the. An article is always connected to a noun, and so when one is used it is always part of a noun phrase.

Example 1

The river is deeper after it rains

In this example, the noun phrase contains a noun (‘river’) and an article (‘the’). The noun phrase ‘the river’ is the subject of the sentence.

Example 2

An enormous tree stands on the riverbank

This noun phrase begins with the article ‘an’. The article is attached to the noun ‘tree’. In between these two words is the adjective ‘enormous’. The article and the adjective are both modifiers describing the noun in the noun phrase ‘an enormous tree’.

c. Modifier – Adjective

An adjective is a word that describes nouns or pronouns.

Example 1

The young puppy chased its tail

The adjective ‘young’ is describing ‘puppy’. The two words combine to make a noun phrase, which is the subject of the sentence.

Example 2

Many people want to live quiet, peaceful lives

This noun phrase has two adjectives: ‘quiet’ and ‘peaceful’. Each adjective modifies the noun ‘lives’. They describe what kind of lives people want.

d. Modifier – Prepositional Phrase

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that begins with a preposition and ends with an object. They add details, such as where something is or when an event occurred.

Example 1

The box in the attic is full of memories

This noun phrase includes the prepositional phrase ‘in the attic’. It is giving us a detail about the noun ‘box’ – where it is located. The noun phrase in this example is the subject of the sentence.

Example 2

My little brother always feared monsters in the closet

The prepositional phrase ‘in the closet’ modifies (describes) the noun ‘monster’. The noun and prepositional phrase combine to make the noun phrase ‘monsters in the closet’.

e. Determiner

 A determiner is a word that clarifies a noun. It is used to differentiate between similar nouns. Determiners answer questions such as ‘Which one?’, ‘Whose?’, ‘How many?”, or ‘How much?’

Example 1

Those people are so friendly!

The determiner ‘those’ tells us which people are friendly. The noun phrase ‘those people’ is the subject of the sentence.

Example 2

Max gave a biscuit to your dog

In this sentence ‘your’ is clarifying to which dog Max gave a biscuit to.  The noun phrase ‘your dog’ is the indirect object of the sentence (see part 4 for more on indirect objects).

Example 3

All children should have access to a free education

The noun ‘children’ is modified by the determiner ‘all’. The determiner ‘all’ answers the question ‘How many children?’ The noun phrase ‘all children’ is the subject of the sentence.

4. Types of Noun Phrase

a. Noun Phrase as a Subject

A subject is a noun that the sentence is about.


Very few giant pandas remain in the wild

This sentence is clearly about the small number of wild Pandas, and so ‘very few giant pandas’ is the subject of the sentence.

b. Noun Phrase as a Complement

A compliment re-states or gives more information about a noun. It always follows a state-of-being verb (is, are, am, will be, was, were).


A sailor’s best friend is a wide, open sea

The noun phrase ‘a wide, open sea’ gives us more information about the sailor’s best friend, the sea. Therefore it acts as a complement to the noun phrase ‘best friend’.

c. Noun Phrase as a Direct Object

A direct object is the noun or pronoun that receives the action of a verb.


Grandma cooked a meal for ten people, even though there were only four of us

The verb in this sentence is ‘cooked’, and the object that is being cooked is ‘a meal.’ The rest of the phrase ‘for ten people’ creates a noun phrase that acts as a direct object.

d. Noun Phrase as an Indirect Object

An indirect object receives the direct object.


Trudy gave her hungry, crying baby a bottle

The noun phrase answers the question, “Who did Trudy give the bottle to?” The phrase ‘her hungry, crying baby’ is the indirect object because it receives the bottle (‘a bottle’ is the direct object because it is receiving the action ‘gave’).


5. How to Write Noun Phrase

A noun phrase centers on a noun. But, that noun may be described by adding modifiers, and adding modifiers to a noun creates a noun phrase. You will quickly note that many nouns have articles (a, an, the) attached to them.


  1. Cats sleep a lot. (no noun phrase)
  2. The cat (article + noun)
  3. The fluffy, long-haired cat (article +adjectives + noun)
  4. The cat on top of the stool is sleeping. (article + noun + prepositional phrase)
  5. Most big cats hunt at night. (determiner + adjective + noun)


Test your Knowledge

What is a noun phrase?




Select the noun phrase:

Summer days in July can be dangerously warm.




Which of the following is a type of noun phrase?






A noun phrase has two parts: _______.




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