Noun Phrase

A noun phrase is a group of words that functions as a subject, object, or complement within a sentence.

Here are some examples of noun phrases:

Noun / Noun Phrase
Grammar Explanation
Cars are useful.
"Car" is the subject of this sentence and it is one word. So, "cat" is a simple noun.
The red car looks gorgeous.
"The red car" is the subject of this sentence and it is more than one words (three words). So, "The red cat" is a not simple noun. It is a noun phrase.
I like potatoes.
"Potatoes" is the object of this sentence and it is one word. So, "potatoes" is a simple noun.
I like sweet potatoes.
"Sweet potatoes" is the object of this sentence and it is more than one words (two words). So, "sweet potatoes" is a not simple noun. It is a noun phrase.

What is a noun phrase? 

"A group of words that contains a head noun and some other words before or after it is a noun phrase. It plays the role of a noun in the sentence." Cambridge Grammar Gear. 

"A noun phrase is a word or group of words in a sentence that behaves in the same way as a noun, that is as a subject, an object, a complement, or as the object of a preposition." Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

"A noun phrase is a group of words that ends with a noun. It contains determiners, adjectives, adverbs, and nouns. It cannot begin with a preposition." Cliff's TOEFL.

Position of Noun Phrases

Noun phrases can be used as subject, object, or complement. Look at the following examples. 

1. Noun Phrase as Subject

  • A blue whale weighs more than 2500 people.
  • The young whales live with their parents.
  • A barn owl can eat about ten mice per night. 
  • A very young child never leaves its mother. 
  • The grumpy owl was unkind. 
  • A wise farmer saved the owl. 
  • Many harmful insects are killed when we use pesticide. 
  • Old people need our help.

2. Noun Phrase as Object of Verb

  • A baby whale drinks 130 gallon milk a day.
  • Whales have loud voice.
  • Owls kill the harmful rats
  • Mother whale feeds her child with milk.
  • Some mice were disturbing the farmer
  • Do you play table tennis?

3. Noun Phrase as Object of Preposition

  • The whale babies feed on their mother's milk.
  • A child can easily swim through the whale’s arteries.
  • Owls sleep in the daytime
  • They hunt for their food at night.
  • The whale lives in the sea.
  • An owl lives in our granary
  • Some large mice lived in the old house

4. Noun Phrase as Predicate Nominative

  • Whales are the largest mammals
  • Owls are nocturnal birds.
  • They are familiar birds.
  • They are farmers’ friends
  • The blue whales are the largest creatures on earth. 

Formation of Noun Phrase

Noun phrases can be formed by combining three types of elements: 

  1. Head noun
  2. Premodifiers &
  3. Post-modifiers

Here's a breakdown of how noun phrases are formed:

1. Head Noun: A noun phrase must have a noun. This noun is called "head noun".

  • Wild birds can fly free. (noun as head of noun phrase)

2. Pre-modifiers: The modifiers that occur before the nouns are called pre-modifiers. Determiners and adjectives function as pre-modifiers. A noun phrase can have only a determiner, only an adjective, or both a determiner and an adjective. Look at the following examples: 

(i) Noun Phrase = Determiner + Adjective + Noun

  • a barn owl
  • some big boys
  • mother's love

(ii) Noun Phrase = Determiner + Noun

  • many birds
  • this house
  • our village

(iii) Noun Phrase = Adjective + Noun

  • golden opportunity
  • empty vessel
  • ancient mariner

(iv) Noun Phrase = Noun + Noun

  • table tennis
  • shoe rack
  • cricket team

(v) Noun Phrase = Noun +and + Noun

  • joy and sorrow
  • bread and butter
  • Mike and Becky

3. Post-modifiers: The modifiers that occur after the nouns are called post-modifiers. Prepositional phrases, Participle phrases, Infinitive phrases, Adjective phrases & Adjective clauses function as post-modifiers. Here are some examples:

(i) Noun Phrases with Prepositional Phrases as Post-modifier

  • The people of Japan are hard working. ('The people' is a noun phrase and 'of Japan' is a prepositional phrase. 'The people of Japan' is a noun phrase.)
  • A man with a gun entered the hall. ('A man' is a noun phrase and 'with a gun' is a prepositional phrase. 'A man with a gun' is a noun phrase.)

(ii) Noun Phrases with Participle Phrases as Post-modifier

  • Things done by halves are never done.
  • I saw an old woman lying on the road.

(iii) Noun Phrases with Infinitive Phrases as Post-modifier

  • The poor man has nothing to eat
  • There is a basket to put the trash

(iv) Noun Phrases with Adjective Phrase as Post-modifier

  • We painted the house green.
  • They found the man very sick.

(v) Noun Phrases with Adjective Clause as Post-modifier

  • People who live in glass house should not throw stones at others.
  • All that glitters is not gold.

Other Phrases as Noun Phrase

Other phrases can do the work of nouns. Then they are called Noun Phrases. Here are some examples.

Infinitive Phrases Working as Noun Phrase: 

  • Whales love to sing
  • He wants to visit America.
  •  To win a prize is my ambition.
  • I want to know his name.
  • I wish to buy a large and beautiful house

Gerund Phrase Working as Noun Phrase

  • Qualifying in the admission test is not easy. 
  • Owls love hiding themselves in the day


A noun phrase cannot begin with a preposition. For example, the mat in the following sentence is a noun phrase. But on the mat is a prepositional phrase. 

  • A fat cat sat on the mat. (Noun Phrase)
  • A fat cat sat on the mat. (Prepositional Phrase)

Order of Determiners

Sometimes a noun phrase may contain several determiners of different classes. Then it follows the following order.

Quantifier + Articles/  Possessive/ Demonstrative + Numerals + Noun

  • all the seven days

Order of Adjectives

Sometimes a noun phrase may contain several modifiers of different classes. If you are learning English as a foreign or second language, it might be difficult for you to remember which type of adjectives you will use in which order. Here is a solution for you. Just remember the two words: DOSA SCOMP. DOSA SCOMP is the abbreviated form of the following types of adjectives: 

  • D=Determiners: a, one, this, your
  • O=Opinion Adjective: good, bad, boring, disgusting
  • S=Size Adjective: big, small, tiny, large
  • A=Age Adjective: old, new, young, elderly
  • S=Shape Adjective: round, square, rectangular, triangular
  • C=Colour Adjective: blue, black, red, yellow
  • O=Origin Adjective: Indian, American, British, Turkish 
  • M=Material Adjective: cotton, wooden, silk
  • P=Purpose Adjective: dining (table), school (bag), table (tennis)

Note Carefully

Sometimes a phrase may be made up of two or more phrases. For example, the phrase "an old woman lying on the road" in the following sentence is made up of four phrases:

  • I saw an old woman lying on the road. (Noun phrase)


  • "an old woman lying on the road" is a noun phrase.
  • "lying on the road" is a participle phrase.
  • "on the road" is a prepositional phrase.
  • "the road" is a noun phrase.