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Noun phrases (noun groups) in English

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The Noun Phrase (or noun group) in English

Related pages: NounsArticles , AdjectivesSome or any, other Quantifiers, Possessives: using "of" or "'s", Count & non-count nouns, pronouns

The six most common models for noun phrases
1. Pronoun
2. Noun alone
3. Determiner + noun
4. Determiner + modifier + noun
5. Determiner + noun + extension.
6. Determiner + modifier + noun + extension
1. They
2. Apples
3. The apples
4. The biggest apples
5. The apples in this box
6. The biggest apples in this box
Other models are possible too.

Two simple "rules" govern the use of the noun group in English.

1. Most noun phrases consist of at least two elements 

Unless a noun is used in a generalising sense (see articles), a noun group consists of at least the following elements: a determiner and a noun.
    A determiner is one of the following:
  • an article (the, a, an, some, any),
  • a quantifier (no, few, a few, many, etc.),
  • a possessive (my, your, whose, the man's, etc.),
  • a demonstrative (this, that, these, those),
  • a numeral (one, two, three etc.)
  • or a question word (which, whose, how many, etc.).

Except in some very rare cases, a noun can only be preceded by ONE determiner:

   Examples: the man, some women, a few dogs, your horse, the man's horse* , that car, whose money,  how many bottles?
     (In this example, the man's horse* there appear to be two determiners before horse, but in fact there is only one: the determiner before horse is the man, and the article the is the determiner of the word  man.)

2. Many noun phrases also include "modifiers" 

A noun group can also contain one or more modifiers.

A modifier is an adjective, an adjectival phrase, a secondary noun, a prepositional phrase or a relative clause.
The principal noun in a noun group is called the head noun.
  • Adjectives are placed before the head noun: as in the Great Gatsby
    (Click here for How to place adjectives in the right order)
  • Adjective phrases usually come before the head noun:  as in:
        a black-and-white striped vest
    a rather tight-fitting dress
  • Secondary nouns behave exactly like adjectives, and  come before the head noun:
     a beer glass,  the police inspector,  a London bus
  • Prepositional phrases and relative clauses follow the head noun, as in:
       the students in our class   or  the girl who gave me her phone-number.
Put all this together, and we get a complex noun group, such as:

The nice old-fashioned police inspector with white hair, who was drinking his beerwas Mr. Morse.

3.  Some common exceptions

Sometimes an adjective or an adjectival phrase will follow the noun, or appear to do so. There are three cases that need to be noted:
  • A very few adjectives always follow the noun: concerned (in the sense of "being talked about"), and involved (in the sense of "participating", or "being present") are the two common ones.
  • Other participial adjectives (such as left, remaining, missing) appear to be used as adjectives that follow the noun; in reality, they are elliptical forms of a relative clause that has become reduced to a single word.
  • Adjectives follow the noun when the adjectives themselves are post-modified (defined) by a following phrase.
There's been an outbreak of flu, but there are only fifteen people concerned.
After the fight, the police arrested the men involved.
Oh look ! there is only one chocolate left !!
We can't go yet !! There are still three people missing
There was a crowd bigger than last year.

To place noun phrases correctly in a sentence, see Word order in English .
Other related pages :

Cette page en français:
Le groupe nominal en anglais

The noun phrase or noun group is a group of words composed of a main noun and all the other words that define it - determiners, adjectives, secondary nouns and possibly defining clauses or phrases.
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