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What is a noun phrase?

Noun phrases are a key element of English grammar, helping to give more information about the noun in a sentence and jazzing up the language. Comma Chameleon unpicks the humble noun phrase for EAL learners and homeschooling parents…

Words reading 'The little bakery on the corner is mine', with 'The little bakery on the corner' highlighted as the noun phrase

In the UK, noun phrases are on the National Curriculum for Year 2 pupils. That means kids these days should be able to identify (and write) a noun phrase by the time they are 7.


But what if you’re someone who went through school before various successive governments started treating the Department for Education like a vanity project and zapped all creativity from English lessons?

First of all, congrats. You’re living proof that you can go through life perfectly happily without giving a second thought to fronted adverbials and adjectival phrases and compound sentences.

Second of all, commiserations. You might now find you’re having to support your nippers through grammar homework or homeschool lessons, and you’re flailing through the dark with all the terminology.


So, let’s untangle the noun phrase…


If a noun is a person, a place or a thing (which it is) and a phrase is a group of words that forms part of a sentence (also yep), then a noun phrase is a group of words that forms part of a sentence and contains a noun.

A noun phrase won’t generally contain a verb, though, so if the phrase in question has a verb, or ‘doing word,’ in it, it’s probably not a noun phrase.

The ‘phrase’ bit of noun phrase usually relates to a group of other words that are describing – or modifying – the noun.


Look at this sentence, for example:


That shiny new MacBook is mine.’


Here, the noun phrase is ‘That shiny new MacBook’ because MacBook is the noun (the thing) and the other words describe it.


Multiple noun phrases


Now, before we get carried away thinking we’ve got the noun phrase nailed, we need to know that it’s possible to have multiple noun phrases in the same sentence.

I know, right?

But check out this sentence…


The charity shop on the corner sells some awesome retro dungarees.’


Here, there are two noun phrases: ‘the charity shop on the corner’ and ‘awesome retro dungarees’.

In the first noun phrase, ‘charity shop’ is the noun and ‘on the corner’ describes it. In the second, ‘dungarees’ is the noun and ‘awesome retro’ describes it.

And that’s the basic noun phrase. Ta-da!


More helpful grammar posts…

In a future blog post, we’re going to be looking at how you can pimp up your writing by using an expanded noun phrase.

But for now, why not check out some of our other blog posts on grammar and word use:

Adverbial phrases: All you need to know

Fronted adverbials: What are they?

Comparisons: Is it ‘compared to’ or compared with’?

Looks like… Sounds like…: The heady world of homophones, homonyms and homographs

Historic or historical? What’s the difference?


Leave it to the pros…

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About Comma Chameleon

Comma Chameleon is a Manchester-based team of copywriters, editors and proofreaders, with decades of experience. We work with clients throughout the UK to bring colour to content and clarity to messages, no matter the size, format or platform. We simply love words, whether they’re yours or ours.

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