Technical Tuesday: Noun Phrase

By Lucas Galaxy

Noun Phrase: a noun and all of its modifiers and determiners. (Merriam-Webster.com retrieved November 17, 2018)

Modifier: a word or phrase that makes specific another word or phrase. (Merriam-Webster.com definition 2 retrieved November 17, 2018)

Determiner: one that determines such as: (b) a word (such as an article, possessive, demonstrative, or quantifier) that makes specific the denotation of a noun phrase. (Merriam-Webster.com retrieved November 17, 2018).

Adjective: A word...typically serving as a modifier of a noun to denote a quality of the thing named, to indicate its quantity or extent, or to specify a thing as distinct from something else. (Merriam-Webster.com retrieved November 17, 2018)

Now that we have definitions of everything, let's talk about building up sentence. In this post I am focusing on noun phrases in the subject of a sentence. There are many ways to make a sentence longer and more precise. In the subject of the sentences the simplest way is to add an adjective to the noun to make it more precise, more poetic, or both.

Adjectives are descriptive words that modify nouns and nouns only.  Moving back to some of the simple sentences from a couple of weeks ago, let's go through some examples.

A dog barks.

A shaggy dog barks.

A is an article that is acting as a determiner telling us one dog.

shaggy is the adjective that describes the look of the dog.

dog is the noun that is the subject of this sentence

A shaggy dog is the noun phrase.


The cards fall.

The flimsy cards fall.

The  is an article acting as a determiner telling us specifically which cards.

flimsy is the adjective describing the type of cards

cards is the plural noun that is the subject of the sentence.

Adjectives have a base form, and two modifying forms, usually ending either in er,  and est. These are know as positive (base form), comparative (er form), superlative (est)

Shaggy, - covered in coarse, uneven  or unkempt hair
shaggier, - to have hair more unkempt, uneven or coarse than the thing being compared against
shaggiest. - to have hair the most unkempt, uneven or coarse in a group of things.

flimsy, - to be insubstantial

flimsier, -  to be\ less substantial than the thing being compared against
flimsiest,  - to be the least substantial in a group of things.


But be careful, because the er ending in a sentence as simple as this can frequently lead what would otherwise be a sentence into a phrase or incomplete clause, because the er ending usually needs its own qualifier in order for the sense. 

For example:

The shaggy dog barks. *** What kind of dog barks? The shaggy one.

The shaggier dog barks. *** Incomplete thought because there is not comparison. Shaggier than what?

The shaggier of the two dogs barks. **** complete thought,  answers the shaggier than what? The other dog.

The shaggiest dog barks. *** complete thought, the superlative distinguishes the dog to a singular, unique dog.

The flimsy cards fall. ***  complete thought. What kind of cards? The flimsy cards.
The flimsier cards fall.  *** incomplete thought because of the comparison. Flimsier than what?
The flimsier cards in the deck fall.  Flimsier than what? Flimsier than the other cards in the deck.
The flimsiest cards fall. **** complete thought Which cards fall, the flimsiest ones.

And lastly there is an order of adjectives in a sentence. If English is your first language, chances are you do this so automatically you don't even think of it. They must go in this order and exactly this order.


  1. Determiner (Including articles)
  2. Observation
  3. Physical Description
    1. Size
    2. Shape
    3. Age 
    4. Color
  4. Origin
  5. Material
  6. Qualifier
Add an adjective or two to your simple or compound noun phrases and see what kind of sentences you can get.

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