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Nouns: Functions, Meaning of and How to Use

Nouns: Functions, Meaning of and How to Use

The Noun Phrase

What does a noun phrase mean? Noun phrase is a word that comes from two words, the first one is “noun” and the second one is “phrase”.

The Meaning of Noun

“Noun” is a word that used to call a persons, animals, things, places, and ideas. For example,

Persons : Jimmy, Susan, Peter, John, Angelo, Michael, etc.

Animal s: bird, elephant, tiger, snake, whale, etc.

Things : car, building, table, pen, etc.

Places : airport, opera house, museum, Eifel tower, etc.

There are many different types of nouns: common noun, proper noun, abstract noun, concrete noun, countable noun, mass noun, and collective noun.

Types of Nouns

1. Common Noun is a noun in general referring to person, animal, place, or thing. For example: man, boy, monkey, bank, gun, and television.

A young man walks along the road.

A monkey likes to eat banana.

Sally work in a bank.

A policeman sees a gun near the river.

The children want to watch a television.

2. Proper Noun is a noun of specific person, place or thing. Example: Tom, Haiti, China, Monday, or December.

Tom is a soldier.

There were many people death in Haiti last month.

The panda are from China.

They will do to the sea in December.

The sun is the center of solar system.

3. Abstract Noun is a noun which we cannot perceive by senses. For example: thought, beauty, wisdom, friendship.

Nobody can read our thought.

The young girls always talk about her beauty.

The friendship between friends is very important.

4. Concrete Noun is a noun which is opposite of abstract noun. We can perceive by senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell.

5. Countable Noun is a noun which we can count. We can use in singular and plural form. For example: pen – pens, car – cars, year – years.

A student wants to buy the new pens.

Her mother go to see a new car.

6. Mass Noun or uncountable noun is a noun which we cannot count and it does not have plural form. For example: water, milk, gas, oxygen, furniture.

Water is good for health.

The children must drink milk for their growth.

Human needs oxygen for life.

We want to see the new furniture for our new house.

7. Collective Noun is a noun of grouping things, persons or animals. For example: committee, flock, class.

The committee meets every Tuesday.

The flock of sheep are in the pasture.

The class will start at nine thirty.

The grammatical functions of noun in a sentence can be subject, subject complement, direct object, indirect object, object complement, appositive noun.

Functions of Nouns

  1. Nouns can be the subject in a sentence which do an action with a verb.Example:

    Jimmy wants to go Thailand.

    A bus stops in front of the school.

  2. Nouns can be object in a sentence, both direct object and indirect object.Example: Direct object

    Tommy washes his car every month.

    My mother buys some fruits from the market.

    A naughty boy hits a small dog.

    Example: Indirect object

    I gave Michael the camera.

    My friend sent me some parcels.

  3. Nouns can be object of preposition.Example:

    I saw my old friend at the museum.

    “Museum” is the object of preposition “at”.

    He drove his car to the office.

    “Office” is the object of preposition “to”.

  4. Nouns can be subjective complement.Example:

    The fried chicken are delicious.

    The fried chicken taste delicious.

  5. Nouns can be objective complement.Example:

    We find the fried chicken delicious.

  6. Nouns can be appositive noun. It means that appositive is a noun placed near another noun.Example:

    My brother, John is in town for the reunion.

    The movie, Avatar won the best motion picture in 2010.

The Meaning of Phrase

Phrase is a group of words function as a single unit in the syntax of sentence or a group of grammatical connected words within a sentence. There are many types of phrase. They are noun phrase, verb phrase, adverbial phrase, adjective phrase, participle phrase, prepositional phrase, absolute phrase, infinitive phrase and gerund phrase.

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The Meaning of Noun Phrase

Noun phrase is a group of words in a sentence which together behave as a noun in a sentence, for example: the night train, the man in black. Noun phrase also consists of pronoun or noun with any associated modifiers, including adjectives, adjective phrases, adjective clauses and other nouns in the possessive case. Noun phrase can be like noun as subject, object of verb, subject or object complement, or object of preposition. For example:

subject: Small boys often insist that they can do it by themselves.

object of verb: To read quickly is Eugene’s goal.

subject complement: Frankenstein is a name of the scientist not the ghost.

object complement: She considers panda is her favorite animal.

Noun phrase can be analyzed into both functional constituents and formal constituents. From the functional point of view, the noun phrase has four components.

  1. The determinative, that constituent which determines the reference of noun phrase in its situation context.
  2. Pre-modification, which comprises all the modifying or describing constituents before the head.
  3. The head, around which the other constituents cluster.
  4. Post-modification, those which comprise all the modifying constituents placed after the head.

Heather Marie Kosur said that there are five grammatical forms can perform the grammatical function of noun phrase modifier in English language. (Heather Marie Kosur:2009) The five grammatical forms that can functions as nouns phrase are nouns phrases, adjective phrases, preposition phrase, verb phrase and relative clauses.

Noun phrase can make use of the apposition structure. It means that the elements in the noun phrase are not in head-modifier relationship but in a relation of equality. The head of noun phrase can be implied. The implied noun phrase is most commonly used as a generic plural referring to human being. (Arnold Zwicky: 2008) Noun phrase also can be headed by elements others than nouns, pronouns or determiners which has given rise to the postulation of a determiner phrase instead of a noun phrase. Some purposes, noun phrase can be treated as single grammatical units. It is most noticeable in syntax of English genitive case. Noun phrase are prototypically used for acts of reference. Not often, noun phrase is used for predication. And noun phrases are used for identifications. The possible for a noun phrase to play the role of subject and predicate lads to the constructions of syllogisms.

How to use Noun Phrase in my classroom?

For my teaching in a primary school, it is very difficult for the students to learn more about noun, types of nouns and functions of nouns. The students cannot remember all of them. Sometimes they do not know what different between each words in a sentence. I have many steps of my teaching about nouns to make my students understand and remember easily. First of all, teach the students pronounce the words correctly by repeating again and again. When they can pronounce the words they also know and understand the meaning of the words too. Second, let the students practice how to spell the words by writing or dictation. After that teach them use the words write the sentences. The sentences they write must not be the complex sentences but they are easy or simple sentences. Next, I always teach my students about countable nouns and uncountable nouns in order to let them know how to use the articles: a, and, the, or the different determiners. Then tell them about singular or plural words, I also explain them how to use verbs with each singular nouns or plural nouns when they write the sentences, too. It is very difficult to make the students understand and remember how to use the articles relate with singular nouns and plural nouns and also with verbs. For example: “The children go to school.” Some of the students understand that “children” is singular noun so they write a wrong sentence as “The children goes to school.” but some of them know that it is plural noun so they write a sentence correctly.

During teaching how to use the article with nouns, I also teach the students about the proper nouns because I want them to know and use the correct article “the” with the proper nouns. Not all of the proper nouns can use with article “the” but some of them can use article and some cannot. Sometimes the students forget what is proper noun or common noun so I try to let them practice the words as many ways as I can.

The ways I teach my students how to practice the words are using activities, games, worksheet and also assignments.

The next step is teaching the students know how to use nouns with the other types of words especially with the adjective. It is very difficult to explain to the students to understand how to use adjectives with nouns. The adjectives always go before nouns and also describe or identify the nouns. But for my students they always forget how to place the adjectives. They sometimes put the adjectives after the nouns. Sometimes they do not know what word is adjective or not so they often use the wrong word. The way to solve this problem is try to train the students practice by giving them many exercises such as the exercise about noun phrase which use adjective, for example: the red car, a big green tree, etc.

It is very difficult to explain the rules of nouns phrases for the students to understand clearly all of the nouns phrases or how to know what nouns phrases are. Normally for Thai students, they are easy to forget the rules of language because they do not use foreign language in their daily life but only in the English class or do the examination or have the competition that they must use English or other language. So they do not attend to study or remember foreign language like English.

The important thing for the students is how to remember the words so they must like to speak, read and write the words or sentences and sometimes sing the songs. They just do that every day like their routine not only in the English period they learn but they can do in the free time. In my opinion, the last thing that the English teacher must do is how to make the students feel good or comfortable with the good atmosphere in learning English and love to learn English with their pleasure and have happiness, too.


Arnold Zwicky. “Starting out on the wrong foot”. Language Log. Retrieved 2008-11-01. Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

Heather Macfadyen. University of Ottawa Canada’ University.

Heather Marie Kosur. The grammatical Noun Phrase Modifier in English. 2009 “Term: Noun Phrases”. Retrieved 2008-11-01.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Third Edition. Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Miffin Company. All right reserved.


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