Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

What Are Noun Phrases? (with Examples)

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)
Interactive Test

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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