Noun phrase

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A noun phrase (abbreviated to NP ) or noun phrase and noun group is a phrase (a completed syntactic unit) whose core or head a noun (meaning noun is). Other forms such as pronouns or nouns of adjectives form noun phrases, provided that the part of speech is also analyzed as nominal (i.e. with the category  attribute N ).

In the sentence “The old tree was struck by lightning”, the component “the old tree” would classically be regarded as such a noun phrase , since the adjective and article are seen here as dependent companions of the nominal head “tree”. This concept of the noun phrase has been familiar in general linguistics since Noam Chomsky (1957) at the latest, and thus since the beginnings of generative grammar . In later versions of the theory it was considered that the article could be a syntactic head with category D; In this variant, the example “the old tree” would be analyzed as a determinant phrase (DP) and the noun phrase would only be the part without the article: “old tree”. In this latter view, many pronouns also form a DP and not a NP. (Older terminology is used as the basis for this article.)

Within the noun phrase (or determinant phrase) there is a grammatical agreement ( congruence ) between article, adjective and noun in the features case, number, gender.

Composition of a noun phrase

A noun phrase consists in the core (technical term: head , English head ) from a noun, z. B. Tree . This core can be expanded to include:

  • Adjective attribute: " old tree"
  • further noun phrases, v. a. Genitive attributes: "the tree of knowledge"
  • Prepositional phrases : "the tree in the field"
  • Sentences : z. B. Relative clauses : "the tree that fell yesterday"
  • and finally, depending on the analysis, possibly also the determinative, for example an article : " the tree"

In analyzes that see the article as part of the noun phrase, the main division of the noun phrase is a combination of the article on the one hand and the entire remainder, i.e. H. the noun with all its attributes, on the other hand. This remainder is also known as a nominal . Conversely speaking, a noun is any compound expression that could be replaced by a noun, but is not yet “determined” by an article.

Sometimes the noun, which should actually appear as the head of a noun phrase, can also be missing ( ellipse ), for example in: "der auf dem Feld".

Functions of noun phrases in the sentence

Nominal / determinant phrases are typically, also in German , the carriers of case characteristics. Accordingly, the phrases appear in different syntactic functions:

  • As the subject of the sentence in "[The tree] is tall",
  • as the object of the sentence in "I see [the tree]",
  • as an attribute to another noun phrase in "die Blätter [of the tree]",
  • as an adverbial , as in “We waited [all evening]” (with the accusative as an adverbial case ) or
  • as a predicative , as in "The tree is [a rooted plant]".

A special form is the vocative phrase , which is used to call and address a person and is not integrated into the sentence. Vocative phrases always appear without an article.

[Lieber Bruder,] hilf mir!
NICHT: *Der liebe Bruder, hilf mir!

See also


  • Noam Chomsky: Syntactic Structures. Mouton, The Hague 1957.
  • Christian Lehmann: Nominalization: Typing of propositions . In: Hansjakob Seiler (ed.): Apprehension. The linguistic apprehension of objects. Part I: Domain and Order of Phenomena. G. Narr Verlag, Tübingen 1982, pp. 66-83 ( online ).

Web links

Wiktionary: noun phrase  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Nominal group  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Sentences: Nominal groups. Retrieved July 25, 2019 .
  2. For the definition of the nominal see Lehmann (1982), p. 12 (the online version, see bibliography).