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Grammar Bites | Writing Noun Phrases (YouTube Script)

When we talked about combining verb phrases with other sentence components, we saw how the vast majority of sentences require at least one noun phrase—sometimes more. In this video, we’ll see how noun phrases are put together.

Noun phrases get their name because they start with a noun—or at least a word that behaves like a noun. In the last video we saw that names can go in the same places as nouns and that some words that we might normally think of as adjectives or verbs can also function as nouns if you treat them the right way. There’s another group of words, too, that we didn’t mention that can go in the same places as nouns—pronouns. In fact, their name literally means that they go “in the place of nouns.”

From here on out, I’ll be using the word noun, but know that any of these other categories of words will work just as well in your sentences.

Now, on to the other parts of the noun phrase.

Remember our noun test? If so, you remember that you can put a the in front of any noun. I mentioned before that the belongs to a class of words called determiners, words that help you identify particular nouns out of a group. So, if you had a table full of teacups, you could use a determiner to tell your reader which one you were talking about: the teacup, that teacup, any teacup, some teacups, every teacup, other teacups, my teacup—you get the idea. Determiners determine the noun you’re talking about. They don’t describe nouns, they point to them. And they always come before the nouns they point to in English.

Determiners are useful, but they don’t tell you too much. Sometimes, you’re going to want to say more about the nouns in your sentences. That’s where modifiers come in. Modifiers are words that add more information to sentences beyond the basic nouns and verbs. Unlike determiners, which only point to nouns, noun phrase modifiers describe nouns, adding more details or explanations to your noun phrase.

In English, many noun modifiers come before the noun they modify. They can work alone, or they can link up in chains, only limited by your willingness to test your readers’ patience. When there is a determiner in the noun phrase, it goes in front of the modifiers, not after them.

Modifiers can come after nouns, too. In some unusual cases, you might see a single-word modifier come after a noun. This is, for example, why the plural of attorney general is attorneys general: general is a modifier, not a part of the noun, so it doesn’t get pluralized.

More typically, though, the kinds of modifiers that come after nouns are longer phrases and clauses. You don’t need to worry about all the moving parts right now—we’ll cover modifiers in greater detail soon. Just know that modifiers can be part of noun phrases and that they can appear both before and after nouns. Usually, however, the kinds of modifiers that come before nouns are different from the kinds of modifiers that come after them, as you can see in these examples.

Of course, you can also get conjunctions like and involved if you really want to get creative.

So, with nouns, determiners, modifiers, and conjunctions, you have everything you need to build working noun phrases of any length. When we talked about linking verb phrases to other sentence components, we covered the various ways in which noun phrases can appear in sentences, so we won’t cover that same information again. Just know that the things we talked about in this video work for any noun phrase, wherever it ends up in your sentence.

Up next, we’ll start to get better acquainted with the wild and wonderful world of modifiers. In the meantime, though, go out there and start writing some superb sentences.

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