What Are Noun Phrases? (with Examples)

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What Are Noun Phrases? (with Examples)

A noun phrase is a phrase that plays the role of a noun. The head word in a noun phrase will be a noun or a pronoun. In the examples below, the whole noun phrase is shaded and the head word is in bold.
  • I like singing in the bath.
  • I know the back streets.
  • I've met the last remaining chief.
Compare the three examples above to these:
  • I like it.
  • I know them.
  • I've met him.
In these three examples, the words in bold are all pronouns. The ability to replace the noun phrases in the first three examples with a pronoun proves that the shaded texts are functioning as nouns, making them noun phrases.

Like any noun, a noun phrase can be a subject, an object, or a complement.

Examples of Noun Phrases

Noun phrases are extremely common. A noun with any sort of modifier (including just a number or an article) is a noun phrase. Here are some examples of noun phrases:
  • The best defense against the atom bomb is not to be there when it goes off. (Anon)
  • (In this example, there is a noun phrase within a noun phrase. The noun phrase the atom bomb is the object of the preposition against. The prepositional phrase against the atom bomb modifies defense.)
  • I don't have a bank account, because I don't know my mother's maiden name. (Paula Poundstone)
  • (In this example, both noun phrases are direct objects.)
  • The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it. (Dudley Moore, 1935-2002)
  • (In this example, the first noun phrase is the subject, and the second is a subject complement.)
  • Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. (Albert Einstein, 1879-1955)
 
 
NOUN CLAUSES, NOUN PHRASES, AND SINGLE WORDS

Not all grammarians agree on the definitions of clauses and phrases. For some, the term phrase covers everything. In other words, for them, a clause is a type of phrase, and a single word is just a short phrase. Here at Grammar Monster, we go with the following:
  • Single Word. A single word is not a phrase.
  • Phrase. A phrase plays the role of one part of speech and has at least two words.
  • Clause. A clause plays the role of one part of speech and has a subject and a verb.
  • (Note: On occasion, the subject may be implied.)
Therefore, in our book, the first shaded text is a noun clause, and the second is a noun phrase:
  • Anybody who wants the presidency so much that he'll spend two years organizing and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office. (David Broder)
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