HOME

TheInfoList



OR:

In
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...
, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a
phrase In syntax and grammar, a phrase is a group of words or singular word acting as a grammatical unit. For instance, the English expression "the very happy squirrel" is a noun phrase which contains the adjective phrase "very happy". Phrases can co ...
that has a
noun A noun () is a word that generally functions as the name of a specific object or set of objects, such as living creatures, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas.Example nouns for: * Living creatures (including people, alive, ...
or
pronoun In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun (abbreviated ) is a word or a group of words that one may substitute for a noun or noun phrase. Pronouns have traditionally been regarded as one of the parts of speech, but some modern theorists would not ...
as its
head A head is the part of an organism which usually includes the ears, brain, forehead, cheeks, chin, eyes, nose, and mouth, each of which aid in various sensory functions such as sight, hearing, smell, and taste. Some very simple animals may ...
or performs the same grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common cross-linguistically, and they may be the most frequently occurring phrase type. Noun phrases often function as verb subjects and objects, as
predicative expression A predicative expression (or just predicative) is part of a clause predicate, and is an expression that typically follows a copula (or linking verb), e.g. ''be'', ''seem'', ''appear'', or that appears as a second complement of a certain type of v ...
s and as the complements of
prepositions Prepositions and postpositions, together called adpositions (or broadly, in traditional grammar, simply prepositions), are a class of words used to express spatial or temporal relations (''in'', ''under'', ''towards'', ''before'') or mark various ...
. Noun phrases can be embedded inside each other; for instance, the noun phrase ''some of his constituents'' contains the shorter noun phrase ''his constituents''. In some more modern theories of grammar, noun phrases with determiners are analyzed as having the determiner as the head of the phrase, see for instance Chomsky (1995) and Hudson (1990).


Identification

Some examples of noun phrases are underlined in the sentences below. The head noun appears in bold. ::This election-year's politics are annoying for many people. ::Almost every sentence contains at least one noun phrase. ::Current economic weakness may be a result of high energy prices. Noun phrases can be identified by the possibility of pronoun substitution, as is illustrated in the examples below. ::a. This sentence contains two noun phrases. ::b. It contains them. ::a. The subject noun phrase that is present in this sentence is long. ::b. It is long. ::a. Noun phrases can be embedded in other noun phrases. ::b. They can be embedded in them. A string of words that can be replaced by a single pronoun without rendering the sentence grammatically unacceptable is a noun phrase. As to whether the string must contain at least two words, see the following section.


Status of single words as phrases

Traditionally, a
phrase In syntax and grammar, a phrase is a group of words or singular word acting as a grammatical unit. For instance, the English expression "the very happy squirrel" is a noun phrase which contains the adjective phrase "very happy". Phrases can co ...
is understood to contain two or more
word A word is a basic element of language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its grammar and the free components are its vocabulary. Languages are the primary means by which humans communic ...
s. The traditional progression in the size of syntactic units is ''word < phrase <
clause In language, a clause is a constituent that comprises a semantic predicand (expressed or not) and a semantic predicate. A typical clause consists of a subject and a syntactic predicate, the latter typically a verb phrase composed of a verb with ...
'', and in this approach a single word (such as a noun or pronoun) would not be referred to as a phrase. However, many modern schools of syntax – especially those that have been influenced by
X-bar theory In linguistics, X-bar theory is a model of phrase-structure grammar and a theory of syntactic category formation that was first proposed by Noam Chomsky in 1970Chomsky, Noam (1970). Remarks on Nominalization. In: R. Jacobs and P. Rosenbaum (eds.) ...
– make no such restriction. Here many single words are judged to be phrases based on a desire for theory-internal consistency. A phrase is deemed to be a word or a combination of words that appears in a set syntactic position, for instance in subject position or object position. On this understanding of phrases, the nouns and pronouns in bold in the following sentences are noun phrases (as well as nouns or pronouns): ::He saw someone. ::Milk is good. ::They spoke about corruption. The words in bold are called phrases since they appear in the syntactic positions where multiple-word phrases (i.e. traditional phrases) can appear. This practice takes the constellation to be primitive rather than the words themselves. The word ''he'', for instance, functions as a pronoun, but within the sentence it also functions as a noun phrase. The phrase structure grammars of the Chomskyan tradition ( government and binding theory and the minimalist program) are primary examples of theories that apply this understanding of phrases. Other grammars such as
dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical theories that are all based on the dependency relation (as opposed to the ''constituency relation'' of phrase structure) and that can be traced back primarily to the work of Lucien Tesni ...
s are likely to reject this approach to phrases, since they take the words themselves to be primitive. For them, phrases must contain two or more words.


Components

A typical noun phrase consists of a noun (the
head A head is the part of an organism which usually includes the ears, brain, forehead, cheeks, chin, eyes, nose, and mouth, each of which aid in various sensory functions such as sight, hearing, smell, and taste. Some very simple animals may ...
of the phrase) together with zero or more dependents of various types. (These dependents, since they modify a noun, are called ''adnominal''.) The chief types of these dependents are: * determiners, such as ''the'', ''this'', ''my'', ''some'', ''Jane's'' *
attributive adjective In linguistics, an adjective (abbreviated ) is a word that generally modifies a noun or noun phrase or describes its referent. Its semantic role is to change information given by the noun. Traditionally, adjectives were considered one of the mai ...
s, such as ''large'', ''beautiful'', ''sweeter'' *
adjective phrase An adjective phrase (or adjectival phrase) is a phrase whose head is an adjective. Almost any grammar or syntax textbook or dictionary of linguistics terminology defines the adjective phrase in a similar way, e.g. Kesner Bland (1996:499), Crystal (1 ...
s and
participial phrase In linguistics, a participle () (from Latin ' a "sharing, partaking") is a nonfinite verb form that has some of the characteristics and functions of both verbs and adjectives. More narrowly, ''participle'' has been defined as "a word derived from ...
s, such as ''extremely large'', ''hard as nails'', ''made of wood'', ''sitting on the step'' * noun adjuncts, such as ''college'' in the noun phrase ''a college student'' * nouns in certain
oblique case In grammar, an oblique (abbreviated ; from la, casus obliquus) or objective case ( abbr. ) is a nominal case other than the nominative case, and sometimes, the vocative. A noun or pronoun in the oblique case can generally appear in any role ex ...
s, in languages which have them, such as German ''des Mannes'' ("of the man";
genitive In grammar, the genitive case (abbreviated ) is the grammatical case that marks a word, usually a noun, as modifying another word, also usually a noun—thus indicating an attributive relationship of one noun to the other noun. A genitive can ...
form) *
prepositional phrase An adpositional phrase, in linguistics, is a syntactic category that includes ''prepositional phrases'', ''postpositional phrases'', and ''circumpositional phrases''. Adpositional phrases contain an adposition (preposition, postposition, or circ ...
s, such as ''in the drawing room'', ''of his aunt'' *adnominal
adverb An adverb is a word or an expression that generally modifies a verb, adjective, another adverb, determiner, clause, preposition, or sentence. Adverbs typically express manner, place, time, frequency, degree, level of certainty, etc., answering que ...
s and adverbials, such as ''(over) there'' in the noun phrase ''the man (over) there'' *
relative clause A relative clause is a clause that modifies a noun or noun phraseRodney D. Huddleston, Geoffrey K. Pullum, ''A Student's Introduction to English Grammar'', CUP 2005, p. 183ff. and uses some grammatical device to indicate that one of the arguments ...
s, such as ''which we noticed'' *other
clause In language, a clause is a constituent that comprises a semantic predicand (expressed or not) and a semantic predicate. A typical clause consists of a subject and a syntactic predicate, the latter typically a verb phrase composed of a verb with ...
s serving as complements to the noun, such as ''that God exists'' in the noun phrase ''the belief that God exists'' *
infinitive phrase Infinitive ( abbreviated ) is a linguistics term for certain verb forms existing in many languages, most often used as non-finite verbs. As with many linguistic concepts, there is not a single definition applicable to all languages. The word is der ...
s, such as ''to sing well'' and ''to beat'' in the noun phrases ''a desire to sing well'' and ''the man to beat'' The allowability, form and position of these elements depend on the syntax of the language in question. In English, determiners, adjectives (and some adjective phrases) and noun modifiers precede the head noun, whereas the heavier units – phrases and clauses – generally follow it. This is part of a strong tendency in English to place heavier constituents to the right, making English more of a
head-initial In linguistics, head directionality is a proposed parameter that classifies languages according to whether they are head-initial (the head of a phrase precedes its complements) or head-final (the head follows its complements). The head is t ...
language. Head-final languages (e.g. Japanese and Turkish) are more likely to place all modifiers before the head noun. Other languages, such as French, often place even single-word adjectives after the noun. Noun phrases can take different forms than that described above, for example when the head is a pronoun rather than a noun, or when elements are linked with a coordinating conjunction such as ''and'', ''or'', ''but''. For more information about the structure of noun phrases in English, see .


Syntactic function

Noun phrases typically bear
argument An argument is a statement or group of statements called premises intended to determine the degree of truth or acceptability of another statement called conclusion. Arguments can be studied from three main perspectives: the logical, the dialectic ...
functions. That is, the syntactic functions that they fulfill are those of the arguments of the main clause
predicate Predicate or predication may refer to: * Predicate (grammar), in linguistics * Predication (philosophy) * several closely related uses in mathematics and formal logic: ** Predicate (mathematical logic) **Propositional function ** Finitary relation ...
, particularly those of subject, object and
predicative expression A predicative expression (or just predicative) is part of a clause predicate, and is an expression that typically follows a copula (or linking verb), e.g. ''be'', ''seem'', ''appear'', or that appears as a second complement of a certain type of v ...
. They also function as arguments in such constructs as
participial phrase In linguistics, a participle () (from Latin ' a "sharing, partaking") is a nonfinite verb form that has some of the characteristics and functions of both verbs and adjectives. More narrowly, ''participle'' has been defined as "a word derived from ...
s and
prepositional phrase An adpositional phrase, in linguistics, is a syntactic category that includes ''prepositional phrases'', ''postpositional phrases'', and ''circumpositional phrases''. Adpositional phrases contain an adposition (preposition, postposition, or circ ...
s. For example: ::For us the news is a concern. – ''the news'' is the subject argument ::Have you heard the news? – ''the news'' is the object argument ::That is the news. – ''the news'' is the predicative expression following the copula ''is'' ::They are talking about the news. – ''the news'' is the argument in the prepositional phrase ''about the news'' ::The man reading the news is very tall. – ''the news'' is the object argument in the participial phrase ''reading the news'' Sometimes a noun phrase can also function as an
adjunct Adjunct may refer to: * Adjunct (grammar), words used as modifiers * Adjunct professor, a rank of university professor * Adjuncts, sources of sugar used in brewing * Adjunct therapy used to complement another main therapeutic agent, either to im ...
of the main clause predicate, thus taking on an
adverb An adverb is a word or an expression that generally modifies a verb, adjective, another adverb, determiner, clause, preposition, or sentence. Adverbs typically express manner, place, time, frequency, degree, level of certainty, etc., answering que ...
ial function, e.g. ::Most days I read the newspaper. ::She has been studying all night.


With and without determiners

In some languages, including English, noun phrases are required to be "completed" with a determiner in many contexts, and thus a distinction is made in syntactic analysis between phrases that have received their required determiner (such as ''the big house''), and those in which the determiner is lacking (such as ''big house''). The situation is complicated by the fact that in some contexts a noun phrase may nonetheless be used without a determiner (as in ''I like big houses''); in this case the phrase may be described as having a "null determiner". (Situations in which this is possible depend on the rules of the language in question; for English, see
English articles The articles in English are the definite article '' the'' and the indefinite articles '' a'' and ''an''. The definite article is used when the speaker believes that the listener knows the identity of the noun's referent (because it is obvious, ...
.) In the original
X-bar theory In linguistics, X-bar theory is a model of phrase-structure grammar and a theory of syntactic category formation that was first proposed by Noam Chomsky in 1970Chomsky, Noam (1970). Remarks on Nominalization. In: R. Jacobs and P. Rosenbaum (eds.) ...
, the two respective types of entity are called noun phrase (NP) and N-bar (N, N′). Thus in the sentence ''Here is the big house'', both ''house'' and ''big house'' are N-bars, while ''the big house'' is a noun phrase. In the sentence ''I like big houses'', both ''houses'' and ''big houses'' are N-bars, but ''big houses'' also functions as a noun phrase (in this case without an explicit determiner). In some modern theories of syntax, however, what are called "noun phrases" above are no longer considered to be headed by a noun, but by the determiner (which may be null), and they are thus called ''
determiner phrase In linguistics, a determiner phrase (DP) is a type of phrase headed by a determiner such as ''many''. Controversially, many approaches, take a phrase like ''not very many apples'' to be a DP, headed, in this case, by the determiner ''many''. This is ...
s'' (DP) instead of noun phrases. (In some accounts that take this approach, the constituent lacking the determiner – that called N-bar above – may be referred to as a noun phrase.) This analysis of noun phrases is widely referred to as the ''DP hypothesis''. It has been the preferred analysis of noun phrases in the minimalist program from its start (since the early 1990s), though the arguments in its favor tend to be theory-internal. By taking the determiner, a function word, to be head over the noun, a structure is established that is analogous to the structure of the finite clause, with a
complementizer In linguistics (especially generative grammar), complementizer or complementiser ( glossing abbreviation: ) is a functional category (part of speech) that includes those words that can be used to turn a clause into the subject or object of a ...
. Apart from the minimalist program, however, the DP hypothesis is rejected by most other modern theories of syntax and grammar, in part because these theories lack the relevant functional categories. Dependency grammars, for instance, almost all assume the traditional NP analysis of noun phrases. For illustrations of different analyses of noun phrases depending on whether the DP hypothesis is rejected or accepted, see the next section.


Tree representations

The representation of noun phrases using parse trees depends on the basic approach to syntactic structure adopted. The layered trees of many phrase structure grammars grant noun phrases an intricate structure that acknowledges a hierarchy of functional projections.
Dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical theories that are all based on the dependency relation (as opposed to the ''constituency relation'' of phrase structure) and that can be traced back primarily to the work of Lucien Tesni ...
s, in contrast, since the basic architecture of dependency places a major limitation on the amount of structure that the theory can assume, produce simple, relatively flat structures for noun phrases. The representation also depends on whether the noun or the determiner is taken to be the head of the phrase (see the discussion of the DP hypothesis in the previous section). Below are some possible trees for the two noun phrases ''the big house'' and ''big houses'' (as in the sentences ''Here is the big house'' and ''I like big houses''). 1. Phrase-structure trees, first using the original X-bar theory, then using the current DP approach:
     NP                NP        ,         DP                DP
   /    \              ,          ,       /    \              , 
det      N'            N'        ,    det      NP            NP
 ,      /   \         /   \       ,     ,      /   \         /   \
the  adj   N'      adj    N'     ,    the  adj   NP      adj    NP
      ,     ,         ,      ,       ,          ,     ,         ,      , 
     big   N       big    N      ,         big   N       big    N
           ,               ,       ,               ,               , 
         house          houses   ,             house          houses
2. Dependency trees, first using the traditional NP approach, then using the DP approach:
          house          houses  ,    the             (null)
        /   /            /       ,         \                 \
      /    /          big        ,           house            houses
   the  big                      ,          /                 /
                                 ,       big               big
The following trees represent a more complex phrase. For simplicity, only dependency-based trees are given.For a dependency grammar analysis of noun phrases similar to the one represented by the trees here, see for instance Starosta (1988:219ff.). For an example of a relatively "flat" analysis of NP structure like the one produced here, but in a phrase structure grammar, see Culicover and Jackendoff (2005:140). The first tree is based on the traditional assumption that nouns, rather than determiners, are the heads of phrases. :: The head noun ''picture'' has the four dependents ''the'', ''old'', ''of Fred'', and ''that I found in the drawer''. The tree shows how the lighter dependents appear as pre-dependents (preceding their head) and the heavier ones as post-dependents (following their head). The second tree assumes the DP hypothesis, namely that determiners rather than nouns serve as phrase heads. :: The determiner ''the'' is now depicted as the head of the entire phrase, thus making the phrase a determiner phrase. Note that there is still a noun phrase present (''old picture of Fred that I found in the drawer'') but this phrase is below the determiner.


See also

* Chunking (computational linguistics) * Conservativity * Nominal group (functional grammar)


Footnotes


References

* * * * *Lockwood, D. 2002. Syntactic analysis and description: A constructional approach. London: Continuum. * * * Radford, A. 2004. English syntax: An introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. * *Stockwell, P. 1977. Foundations of syntactic theory Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc. See also: *Rijkhoff, Jan. 2008. Descriptive and discourse-referential modifiers in a layered model of the noun phrase. Linguistics 46-4, 789–829. * * {{cite book , doi=10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.53031-1 , chapter=Word Order , title=International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences , year=2015 , last1=Rijkhoff , first1=Jan , pages=644–656 , isbn=978-0-08-097087-5 , url=https://pure.au.dk/ws/files/90431351/Word_Order_draft_May_2014.pdf *García Velasco, Daniel and Jan Rijkhoff (eds.).2008. The Noun Phrase in Functional Discourse Grammar (Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs iLSM195). Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Syntactic categories Grammatical construction types *