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Noun Phrases

Noun as ‘head’

As with verb phrases, noun phrases (NP) must consist minimally of a head word. This may be either a noun or a pronoun, e.g.

Noun phrase 'Rover'


Noun phrase 'him'

The head in noun phrases may also receive pre-modification. There are five main ways this may be achieved. It may be pre-modified by (1) identifiers, (2) numerals, (3) quantifiers, (4) adjectives, and (5) adjectives and their associated intensifying adverb. We will now provide examples of each of these types of modification using the utterance the boy hugged the dog as a baseline.

Pre-modifying identifiers

In our example utterance, the boy hugged the dog, there are actually two noun phrases, as indicated below.

Noun phrase 'the boy' and 'the dog'

The head in each noun phrase is a noun (boy, dog) and in each case it is modified by the identifier the. This is, of course, the definite article. However, any of the identifiers (indefinite article, definite article, possessives and demonstratives) may be used to pre-modify the head noun. Here are a couple of examples. The first uses the possessive identifier my to pre-modify the head noun wife and the second uses the demonstrative identifier this to pre-modify the head noun book.

Noun phrase 'my wife'


Noun phrase 'this book'

Pre-modifying numerals

Consider the following modification to our baseline utterance.

Noun Phrases 'the first boy' and 'the three dogs'

We see that the head nouns in each of the two noun phrases of our baseline utterance have now been pre-modified by the insertion of a numeral. In the first noun phrase, the head noun boy is pre-modified by the ordinal first and in the second noun phrase the plural head noun dogs is pre-modified by the cardinal three.

Pre-modifying quantifiers

Recall that quantifiers such as several, few and many are used to make reference to indefinite quantities. In the following example both head nouns in each of the noun phrases in our baseline utterance have been pre-modified by the use of a quantifier. The first is the quantifier several and the second is the quantifier various.

Noun Phrases 'several boys' and 'various dogs'

Pre-modifying adjectives

Recall that adjectives are descriptors that qualify nouns by providing additional and specific information. They commonly occur before a noun. The reason for this should now be apparent, i.e. because they may be used to pre-modify a head noun but not to post-modify the noun. In the following example, the head of the first noun phrase is pre-modified by the adjective happy and the head of the second noun phrase is pre-modified by the adjective sad.

Noun Phrases 'the happy boy' and 'the sad dog'

Pre-modifying adjectives and associated intensifying adverb

Recall how certain adjectives appear to be gradable and that they can, therefore, be modified by an intensifying adverb. For example, quick is a gradable adjective as it can be modified by intensifying adverbs to produce utterances such as very quick, extremely quick, rather quick, and so on. Similarly, distraught is a gradable adjective as it too can be modified by an intensifying adverb, e.g. greatly distraught, severely distraught, somewhat distraught. It is, therefore, possible to pre-modify head nouns with both an adjective and its associated intensifying adverb, e.g.

Noun Phrases 'the very happy boy' and 'the rather sad dog'

To summarize, our original example utterance may now be illustrated as follows.

Phrase 'the boy hugged the dog'