Noun Phrases: Definition, Purpose and Use

Noun phrases are groups of words that function like nouns. Typically, they act as subjects, objects or prepositional objects in a sentence. While that might seem tricky to grasp, the best way to understand these useful phrases is to see them in action. Get a clear idea of a noun phrase and how it is used in a sentence through examples.

Noun Phrase Example Noun Phrase Example
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Noun Phrase Examples

Noun phrases are simply nouns with modifiers. Just as nouns can act as subjects, objects and prepositional objects, so can noun phrases. Similarly, noun phrases can also work in a sentence as adjectives, participles, infinitives, and prepositional or absolute phrases. Noun phrases are important for adding more detail to a noun. Examples of simple noun phrases include:

  • the little boy
  • the happy puppy
  • the building on the corner
  • the sharp pencil
  • your religion

Noun Phrase Modifiers

The modifier can come before or after the noun. If it comes before the noun, it's likely to be an article, possessive noun, possessive pronoun, adjective, or participle.

  • his toy
  • the book
  • dull chisel
  • new table

Modifiers that come after the noun include prepositional phrases, adjective clauses, participle phrases, and infinitives.

  • lawyer with a crooked nose
  • face red with embarrassment
  • devil in disguise
  • man of his word

Purpose and Use of Noun Phrases in Sentences

The purpose of a noun phrase is to provide more detail to a sentence. Therefore, a noun phrase can function in different ways within a sentence. View a few example sentences using noun phrases in different ways.

Noun Phrase as a Subject

To be a complete sentence, a sentence needs a subject. Noun phrases are easy to add in as the subject of a sentence. And they typically provide a clearer picture to the reader of what the subject is.

  • The spotted puppy is up for adoption.
  • The bohemian house was brightly decorated for the holidays.

Noun Phrase as an Object

In addition to needing a subject, you also have an object within a sentence. The objects work with the verb in the sentence like in these noun phrase as object examples.

  • At the zoo, I saw a striped zebra.
  • I want a cute puppy for Christmas.

Noun Phrase as a Prepositional Object

When the noun phrase becomes a prepositional object, it will start with a preposition like "in" or "to."

  • Mary lives in an eclectic household.
  • Jose drives to an awful job every morning.
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Noun Phrase With Adjective

You'll also come across sentences where the noun phrase includes words that act as an adjective. For example, in "the car wash" the word "car" is acting as an adjective for the noun "wash."

  • The car wash was out of order.
  • The Delta Airlines flight to New York is ready to board.

Noun Phrase as a Participle

You've probably seen a participle in a sentence like "gardening." However, a noun phrase can also become a participle within a sentence. Explore a few examples to check out how this works.

  • She kindly offered water to the gardener working in the hot sun.
  • Having been a police officer, he knew how to defend himself.

Noun Phrase Plus to-Infinitive

A noun phrase can be used as a to-infinitive to show something that might be a necessity or possibility. Investigate how this works through a few examples.

  • The ability to give to others is an important character trait.
  • Our decision to get married was celebrated by all our friends.

Noun Phrase as a Prepositional Phrase

In this type of sentence, the noun phrase works as a prepositional phrase. In the example, the preposition is in italics while the noun phrase is in bold.

  • She crawled through the dark and musty attic.
  • He had to sit beside the horribly angry girl.

Noun Phrase as an Absolute Phrase to a Subject

You can also use the noun phrase as an absolute phrase for a specific subject. Find out how this works by checking out the examples with the noun phrase in bold and the subject in italics.

  • Her face red with embarrassment, she took her seat beside the man she had tripped.
  • They walked into the sunset, their laughter carrying on the breeze.
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Nouns and Their Functions

Nouns name persons, places, things, or ideas. Since there are so many of them, they can be grouped into many different categories. Some of the different types of nouns include:

  • Common nouns refer to ordinary persons, places, things, or ideas, like "car."
  • Proper nouns refer to a specific persons, places, things, or ideas, like "Mercedes Benz."
  • Concrete nouns can be experienced through your senses, like "flower."
  • Abstract nouns cannot be experienced through the senses, like "love."
  • Countable nouns can be counted, like "cars."
  • Uncountable nouns and mass nouns cannot be counted, like "air."
  • Collective nouns name a group of things or people, like "flock."

Function of Nouns in Sentences

Nouns generally function in sentences as subjects and objects. However, they can also modify other words by being possessive or an appositive. An example of a possessive noun would be the "boss's car," meaning the car that belongs to the boss. An example of an appositive noun would be "my brother, the human garbage disposal."

Sometimes, nouns can also act like an adjective, as in "water heater" where "water" modifies "heater." They can also function as an adverb, as in "she went home" where "home" indicates where she went.

Forming Fuller Ideas

No matter their form or function, noun phrases form fuller ideas. Instead of just talking about a dog, you can add an adjective to that noun and discuss a spotted dog. Instead of just saying they walked into the sunset, you can describe the scene with his laughter ringing through the air. You'll find many writers like to make use of noun phrases. It allows them to paint pictures, including a red-faced woman who found herself in an uncomfortable position.

Given the English language's complex beauty, you may not be surprised to learn there are other types of phrases, including verb phrases and gerund phrases. Investigate phrase examples to learn more about building illustrative sentences that will stick in your readers' minds forever.