Determiners come first in a noun phrase (e.g. thebig black car). They include:
articles: a/an, the
demonstratives: this, that, these, those
possessive determiners: my, your, his, her, etc.
quantifiers: some, any, all, enough, no, every, etc.
numerals: one, two, three, etc.
interrogative words: which, what, whose
Determiners show the type of reference the noun phrase makes. The reference may be definite (the), indefinite (a/an), demonstrative (this, that, these, those), possessive (my, our, their, etc.). Determiners can also indicate number or quantity (e.g. seven, all, some, no). (Determiners are in bold; heads are underlined.):
Nouns can act as premodifiers in noun phrases. They specify particular aspects or features of the noun, such as type, material, etc. (Premodifier nouns are in bold; heads are underlined.):
two 18th-century solid silvercups
a recent governmentreport
Nouns which act as premodifiers are singular, even when the head is plural:
Four metalcylinders were attached to the machine.
Not: Four metals cylinders were attached to the machine.
You can get really good, cheap leatherjackets in Marrakesh.
Noun phrase modifiers indicating time or measurements are singular in form even when their meaning is plural. Hyphens are normally used in the modifying expression:
an eight-hourflight a three-daytour of Amsterdam a two-litrebottle
Not: an eight-hours flight
Noun phrases: complements
Complements come immediately after the head in a noun phrase. They are prepositional phrases or clauses which are necessary to complete the meaning of the noun. Without the complement, we wouldn’t understand what the noun was referring to.
of fear and loneliness
that schools should control their own finances
that the planet is getting warmer
A rise in inflation is likely in the coming months.
The idea that schools should control their own finances is not a new one.
The fact that the planet is getting warmer is no longer disputed.
Postmodifiers come after the head in a noun phrase. They consist of adverb phrases, prepositional phrases and clauses. Postmodifiers give extra or specific information about the noun (e.g. place, possession, identifying features). Unlike complements, they are not necessary to complete the meaning.
with grey hair
she bought last year
on my desk that Philip left for you
prepositional phrase (on my desk) + clause (that Philip left for you)
in the black dress talking to Marcus
prepositional phrase (in the black dress) + clause (talking to Marcus)
Postmodifiers usually come after any complement in the noun phrase.
Complements are necessary to complete the meaning of a noun. Postmodifiers are not necessary; they give extra information about the noun which helps to identify it or locate it in some way. (The complement and the postmodifier are underlined below.)
We all felt a senseof despair.
The tall womanin the red skirt talking to Paula is a colleague of mine.
The head sense needs more information to complete its meaning. If we only said We all felt a sense, the meaning would not be complete; we need the complement.
The postmodifiers in the red skirt and talking to Paula help us to identify the woman but they are not necessary. The meaning (The tall woman is a colleague of mine.) would be complete without them.