The Grammatical Functions of a Noun Phrase

This tutorial will show you how to identify or state the grammatical functions of a noun phrase.

Let’s however begin with a few examples of a noun phrase. In the sentences below, the words in bold constitute a noun phrase.

Examples of a noun phrase

  • Those athletes are my source of inspiration.
  • That old dog barked all night.
  • Most successful bloggers love to learn new things.
  • They speak a strange language.
  • Affiliate marketing has made her rich overnight.
  • You may study as many online courses as you please.
  • Lola, my friend’s lovely horse, lives in Cambridge.

So what would you say if you were asked to state the grammatical function of each of the above noun phrases as they are used in their context?

In other words how would you know exactly what to write anytime you need to state the grammatical function of a group of words you have identified as a noun phrase?

Let me quickly show you how without beating about the bush.

Common grammatical functions of a noun phrase

There are several grammatical functions of a noun phrase. Your first job is to know these functions. This is to ensure that you do not end up mistakenly stating the grammatical function reserved for an adverbial phrase, for example, as the function of a noun phrase.

Here are the commonest grammatical functions of a noun phrase.

  • Subject of the verb …
  • Object of the verb …
  • Complement of the verb ….
  • Complement of the preposition …
  • Noun in apposition/Appositive to the noun/noun phrase …

A simple way to know the grammatical function of any noun phrase

The position that a noun phrase occupies in a sentence is crucial in knowing its function in that particular sentence.

Position here refers to the following.

1. Position in the sentence as a whole

2. Position in relation to the main verb or verb phrase in the sentence

3. Position in relation to another noun/noun phrase/noun clause in the sentence

4. Position in relation to a preposition in the sentence

Use these guidelines to state the function of any group of words whose grammatical name you have identified as a noun phrase.

Initial position in a sentence = Subject of the verb …

When the noun phrase in question appears at the beginning of the sentence, it is very likely that it is functioning as the subject of the main verb in that sentence.

Usually, such a noun phrase will also come just before the main verb or verb phrase in the sentence.
Look at the noun phrases in bold lettering in these examples:

  • That old dog barked all night.

Grammatical Function: It is functioning as the subject of the verb, “barked”.

  • Artificial intelligence is the next big thing to come.

Grammatical Function: It is functioning as the subject of the verb “is”.

Position after the main verb = Object of the verb …

Note that the main verb here must be a transitive verb.

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Example:

  • You may study as many online courses as you, please.

Grammatical Function: It is the object of the verb, “study”.

  • I will choose the easiest question.

Grammatical Function: It is the object of the verb phrase, “will choose”.

Recommended:

Position after a linking verb or intensive verb = Complement of the verb …

Noun phrases that perform this function are also referred to as “subject complement”. They refer to the same entity that the noun/noun phrase/noun clause that is performing the function of subject is referring to.

Example:

  • Those athletes are my source of inspiration.

Grammatical Function: It is the complement of the verb, “are”

  • She is the best manager this company has ever had.

Grammatical Function: It is the complement of the verb, “is”.

Position after a preposition = Complement of the preposition …

Example:

  • The head of this organization is Italian.

Grammatical Function: It is a complement of the preposition, “of”.

  • We prefer a student from our former school.

Grammatical Function: It is a complement of the preposition, “from”.

Position after another noun/noun phrase/noun clause = Noun in apposition (an appositive) to the noun/noun phrase/noun clause …


Example:

  • Peki Training College, the place I trained as a teacher, is now a university college.

Grammatical Function: It is functioning as a noun in apposition to the noun, “Peki Training College”.

  • Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, must be a very rich guy.

Grammatical Function: It is functioning as a noun in apposition to the noun, “Matt Mullenweg”.

More resources:

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Ralph Nyadzi is the Director of Studies at Cegast Academy. He is a qualified English tutor with decades of experience behind him. Since 2001, he has successfully coached thousands of High School General Arts WASSCE candidates in English, Literature and related subjects. He combines his expertise with a passion for lifelong learning to guide learners from varying backgrounds to achieve their educational goals. Ralph shares lessons from his blogging journey on BloggingtotheMax. He lives with River, his pet cat, in the Central Region of Ghana.

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11 thoughts on “The Grammatical Functions of a Noun Phrase”

    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Samuel. Yes, you can have any book you want. Some are free and others come at a very affordable price. Please visit the ‘Free Downloads’ page or the ‘Bookshop’ and take the necessary steps.

    1. Yes, Gold. This happens when the noun phrase comes after another noun or noun phrase which functions as an object of verbs like MAKE, DECLARE, ELECT, PRONOUNCE and CALL.
      Example. The electoral commissioner declared William Ruto the winner.
      ‘the winner’ is a noun phrase functioning as an object complement.
      Please refer to this other post for more details—20 Examples of Grammatical Functions in English.
      You might also want to download the ebook on grammatical names and functions. It is free. Thank you.

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