Noun Phrase

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What is a Noun Phrase?

A Noun phrase is a collection of words that does not include a finite verb i.e. a verb with a subject.

Usually, a noun phrase is built up around a single headword—which is obviously a noun—and any associated modifiers that tells which noun we are talking about. The headword (noun) in the following examples are in bold. Other words are merely modifiers, telling us which object (noun) we are talking about.

Practical Examples:

  • The long and windy road.
  • The school boys.
  • A true hero.
  • Tasty chocolate cookies.

The modifiers that accompany a noun can take a number of forms:

  1. the tall and brilliant professor


  2. The road following the edge of the frozen lake

    Participial phrase

  3. The first man to walk on the moon

    Infinitive phrase

  4. The presentation that he had made the day before

    Modifying clause

  5. The building next to the lodge, over by the highway.

    Prepositional phrase

Functions of Noun Phrases

Typically, noun phrases function as subjectOpens in new window, objectOpens in new window, or complement of clausesOpens in new window, and as complement of prepositional phrasesOpens in new window.

1.  Noun Phrase as Subject

A subject is a noun that the sentence talks about. As with all other nouns, a noun phrase can function as the subject of a sentence:

  • Music business earns artist a fortune.

2.  Noun Phrase as Direct Object

A noun phrase can also function as a direct object. A direct object is usually introduced after the verb and receives the action of the verb. In the sentence below, the noun phrase functions as the sentence's direct object:

  • The professor prepared a test for the student immediately after the lecture.

3.  Noun Phrase as Indirect Object

The indirect object usually comes between the verb and the direct object,and modifies the verb. In the sentence below, the noun phrase functions as indirect object:

  • Gretchen gave the hungry crying baby chocolate.

In the sentence, the noun phrase “the hungry crying baby” is the indirect object and answers the question, “Who did Gretchen give chocolate to?” of course it’s the hungry crying baby because it receives the chocolate, which is the direct object because it receives the action of the verb ‘gave.’

4.  Noun Phrase as Complement

A noun phrase can also act as a complement. A complement usually follows a linking verb in a sentence and gives more information about the subject. Examples of such linking verbs include: “become,” “seem,” etc. and any form of the verb ‘be’, which include “is,” “am,” “are,” “was,” and “were,” among others.

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

The noun phrase “a wide, open sea” tells us more information about the sailor’s best friend (which is the sea). Therefore it acts as a complement to the noun phrase ‘best friend’.

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