Noun Phrases

Often a noun phrase is just a noun or a pronoun:

People like to have money.
I am tired.
It is getting late.

or a determiner and a noun …:

Our friends have bought a house in the village.
Those houses are very expensive.

… perhaps with an adjective:

Our closest friends have just bought a new house in the village.

Sometimes the noun phrase begins with a quantifier:

All those children go to school here.
Both of my younger brothers are married
Some people spend a lot of money.


Quantifiers come before determiners, but numbers come after determiners:

My four children go to school here. (All my children go to school here.)
Those two suitcases are mine. (Both those suitcases are mine)

So the noun phrase is built up in this way:

Noun: people; money
Determiner + noun: the village, a house, our friends; those houses
Quantifier + noun: some people; a lot of money
Determiner + adjective + noun: our closest friends; a new house.
Quantifier + determiner + noun: all those children;
Quantifier + determiner + adjective + noun: both of my younger brothers

The noun phrase can be quite complicated:

a loaf of nice fresh brown bread
the eight-year-old boy who attempted to rob a sweet shop with a pistol
that attractive young woman in the blue dress sitting over there in the corner

Match noun phrases to patterns

Some words and phrases come after the noun. These are called postmodifiers. A noun phrase can be postmodified in several ways. Here are some examples:

• with a prepositional phrase:

a man with a gun
the boy in the blue shirt
the house on the corner

• with an –ing phrase:

the man standing over there
the boy talking to Angela

• with a relative clause:

the man we met yesterday
the house that Jack built
the woman who discovered radium
an eight-year-old boy who attempted to rob a sweet shop

• with a that clause.
This is very common with reporting or summarising nouns like idea, fact, belief, suggestion:

He’s still very fit, in spite of the fact that he’s over eighty.
She got the idea that people didn’t like her.
There was a suggestion that the children should be sent home.

• with a to-infinitive.
This is very common after indefinite pronouns and adverbs:

You should take something to read.
I need somewhere to sleep.
I’ve got no decent shoes to wear.

There may be more than one postmodifier:

an eight-year old boy with a gun who tried to rob a sweet shop
that girl over there in a green dress drinking a coke


Match types of postmodifiers to phrases


There are four complex noun phrases in this section:

The accident happened at around 3pm on Wednesday. A man climbing nearby who saw the accident said “It was the most amazing rescue I have ever seen.” 42-year-old Joe Candler saw Miss Johnson’s fall along with his partner Fay Hamilton.

The rescue is the latest in a series of incidents on High Peak. In January last year two men walking on the peak were killed in a fall when high winds blew them off the mountain.



Hello! Since I could not find the noun clause section, please excuse my being off topic. Please consider this example: "I think that this website is a great comprehensive source for English students". I've been told that "think" is an independent clause. However, it seems that "I think" alone can not stand by itself. I'm aware that *that this website......* is a noun clause acting as a direct object.. So, does the clause "I think" acts as an independent clause or does the whole sentence acts so. This is the peculiarality about noun clauses. I mean that if we omitted adverb or adjective clauses, they wouldn't distort the meaning, as they are just modifiers. I'm looking forward to hearing your answer. Regards!

Hello Saad.

While 'I think' is a perfectly good sentence by itself, it is only so when we use 'think' as an intransitive verb, so I see the condundrum. Clearly, 'think' is the main clause verb and I would argue that the subordinate clause is embedded within the main clause. However, there are different schools of grammar which take different views of such sentences.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir,

I guess you haven't grasped point. Consider this very example: 'What Joe said surprised everyone'. In that case, if we happen to ommit the noun clause, will the sentence still expresses a full though? Clearly not, so we can we say that 'What Joe said.....' is an independent clause in which there's a noun clause. Another example just to make my point, Joe is not what is considered industrious. If I asked u where's the independent clause in these sentences, what'd you say? I hope it's clear.

Warm regards!

Hello Saad.

I'm afraid you didn't quite understand my answer – I'm sorry if it wasn't clear. When I said 'the subordinate clause is embedded within the main clause' I meant that the whole sentence is the main clause and contains within it a subordinate clause.

This is really a linguistics question rather than a language learning question, and so goes outside of our focus here on LearnEnglish.

You can find a discussion of this topic on Stack Exchange, which is a great reference place for this sort of thing:



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir,

We frequently come across phrases like 'India skipper' (a noun, placed before another noun, acts as an adjective) while we read sports news in newspapers or watch matches on TV. We have also seen phrases like 'Indian skipper' used in news articles. My question is : Is there any difference between 'India skipper' and 'Indian skipper' ?
I also wanted to know if they ('India skipper' & 'Indian skipper') can be used interchangeably?

Thank you in advance!

Hi Prap,

As far as I know, the standard and correct usage is the first one, a noun + noun combination, e.g. 'India skipper', 'England skipper', etc. It makes sense to use an adjective + noun ('Indian skipper') combination as well, and for practical reasons in most cases they are likely to mean the same thing. But there is a difference -- in the first case, 'India' refers to the country that the team represents, whereas 'Indian' refers to the nationality of the skipper, i.e. that one person rather than the whole team.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team


I've read on many books and websites that phrases are supposed to be a group of words without a verb and subject.

My question is, if that statement is true, how do we explain postmodifiers such as "the man we met yesterday." This phrase clearly has a subject and verb.

Hello kakakevin,

That is not a definition we use or would use. A phrase is a word or collection of words which forms a grammatical unit in a sentence. Phrases can be part of a clause but they can also be clauses.

The definition on the relevant wikipedia page is a perfectly good one:


In linguistic analysis, a phrase is a group of words (or possibly a single word) that functions as a constituent in the syntax of a sentence, a single unit within a grammatical hierarchy. A phrase typically appears within a clause, but it is possible also for a phrase to be a clause or to contain a clause within it.



The LearnEnglish Team

Aren't a relative clause and an adjective clause one and the same? I'm partial to using the term adjective clause as I believe the plain name is more helpful to ESL students. With '-ing phrase', the explanation is written plainly, but I'd prefer that the entire description be either formal or informal. A that-clause following a noun is a relative clause, so I don't understand the distinction between them in the lesson above. In adjective clauses which have the relative pronoun and a variant of be (are/is/was/were) may drop the relative pronoun and the form of be to form a reduced clause. Additionally, when the word replaced by the relative pronoun is an object, the relative pronoun may be dropped. However, the one that would have begun with that still technically has a 'that' place holder and would still be a that-clause. That-clauses seem to have a more useful distinction with noun-clauses as I see it. Aren't the gerund and infinitive forms reduced clauses? Would it not be better to put them both into the category of reduced clauses and describe the variants?
Allow me to put my comment into context as I do not mean to be splitting hairs with you. As my students may be taking this quiz, which I'm grateful that you've made available, I'm most interested in simplicity with rules that are as black and white as possible. I'd like to offer such quizzes on my own website, but my computer skills aren't up to the task.
I've worked side-by-side with British Council staff at various institutions and have been delighted with their work ethic and good nature.

Hello wegugin,

You will find the terms 'relative clause' and 'adjectival clause' used interchangeably in some places and I know a number of teachers who follow your line of reasoning. Personally I prefer the term 'relative clause' for several reasons.

There are a number of relative clauses which are poorly described as adjectival in my view. One such is the nominal relative clause, sometimes called a fused relative clause:

What he did surprised many people, but not me.

'What he did' has the meaning of 'The thing that he did' and so we can see the relationship to what you would call an adjective clause. However, it contains the sense of the noun within itself and has a nominal function in the sentence (being the subject of the verb 'surprised'). It is difficult to justify describing this as an adjectival clause. A similar issue arises with appositive clauses such as 'She got the idea that people didn’t like her', where the clause renames, so to speak, the noun ('idea') rather than describing it in an adjectival sense.


In any description of language which is intended for learners (rather than for abstract linguistic analysis) we need to balance accuracy and helpfulness. We often find that a linguistically rigorous and precise explanation is counter-productive, and something more accessible is helpful. An example is the the way language teachers talk about 'first conditional', 'second conditional' and so on, which describe entirely arbitrary distinctions but which may be helpful for learners at a particular stage of learning.


On this page we present learners with various possible ways to postmodify a noun phrase and group them in ways that we consider most accesible and helpful. We could put -ing phrases in the same group as relative clauses but this would require some explanation of how the learner can go from a relative clause to a reduced relative clause, including active and passive distinctions. Instead, we provide a list of ready-made postmodifiers, choosing this as a more accessible approach and leaving how relative clauses can be reduced to be dealt with on other pages. This is a judgement call, of course, and it may well be that a different way of organising and describing them suits you, your approach and your students' needs better.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team