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.




Thank you for your prompt reply, and happy new year to you.

In the sentence 'What he did surprised many people, but not me' with the nominal clause 'What he did', which I would teach as a noun clause making no reference to adjective clauses, you say that it is related to the adjective / relative clause 'the thing that he did.' (Note: I do not use the terms relative, adjectival, or nominal when teaching this to ESL students as they seem to get lost in the terms.) I see the relationship and have mentioned this to students on occasion, most notably when the wording seems awkward. I teach them that nominal clauses as subjects are mainly used in speech rather than writing. I just can't wrap my head around the relationship between the two being necessary rather than coincidental and need to ponder this more. Do you know of a linguistic text that delves into this? I teach appositives (as well as necessary & extra information) using Introduction to Academic Writing 3 (3rd Edition), chapter 8 (Hogue), after having taught general adjective clauses from Fundamentals of English Grammar (Azar).

How he did that surprised many people, but not me. (the way in which)
Why he did that surprised many people, but not me. (the reason that)
Where he did that surprised many people, but not me. (the place in which)
When he did that surprised many people, but not me. (the time in which)
Which language he spoke surprised many (the language that he spoke)
What time he knocked on the door (the time that he knocked on the door)

I don't think that it is necessary to break these down into nouns with adjective clauses... or maybe it is, and I am missing something. It seems to me that the ability to do this and the necessity are not one and the same, but I guess I'm arguing with our linguistic forebears at this point. I am of the ilk that thinks that grammar should be simple and unencumbered. This is one of the judgment calls that I've made in favor of simplicity for my students. There are noun clauses and adjective clauses, and this is what they do and how they are used in a sentence.

Your response has been quite instructive. Would you mind touching on that-clauses and why there is a distinction between them and relative clauses? Or have I missed that in your response?

All the best,


Hello again Albert,

I agree that clarity and simplicity are important aspects in effective language teaching and I know that many teachers follow your line with adjective/relative clauses.

The discussion is interesting but goes a little beyond the scope of this site, which is aimed at students rather than teachers. I find a good place for this kind of exploration is stackexchange, where you can do a search for relevant discussions, or begin one yourself. You might also visit our sister site for teachers, where you will find similar comments sections to those on here.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Peter.

All the best,


Hi Teachers,

I've come across other resources which describe compound nouns (noun + noun, e.g. apple tree, office chair etc) and also, another page from your website dealing with noun modifiers (also noun + noun, e.g. village church, ice bucket etc). Not to compare or anything, but I suppose they are all talking about the same thing, that is a noun modifying a noun?

Also, is it a rule that the first noun must be singular? or is it simply a case where the first noun can be either singular or plural (i.e. no fixed rule as it depends on usage, dictionary best able to advise), but that the first noun tends to be in the singular form for most compound nouns?

Thanks in advance for the advice!


Hi Tim,

Yes, in compound nouns the first noun is always singular. The only exceptions to this are certain borrowings from other languages (typically French) which are really noun + adjective combinations now treated as compound nouns. An example would be attorney  general which has the plural form attorneys general.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi team ,

Kindly explain the difference between the two nouns " opportunity" and "fortune" in this context please as I understand that both nouns mean a chance to do something so I am confused which noun gives the correct meaning

" He is not a remarkable businessman but that he simply had the good fortune / or opportunity to be in the right place at the right time"

Thank you.

Hello Widescreen,

'Opportunity' strictly means a chance to do something. 'Fortune' refers to good luck. Of course, in many contexts both are possible. For example, if I by chance meet someone who offers me a good job then it is both good luck and a chance, and I can emphasise either.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Can we say these questions are phrases?

What is your name?
How old are you?

Hello asoghayer,

These questions are full sentences, not really phrases. The word 'phrase' is used in different ways. If you look it up in the Cambridge Dictionary, you can see these, and the Wikipedia entry for 'phrase' might also be useful for you, too.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

hi peter
The accident happened at around 3pm on Wednesday.

could i use "was" here.
the accident was happened at around 3pm on wednesday.