21 Oct 2014

Noun phrase – a role in a sentence

In the previous post I talked about a noun phrase and its modifiers coming before a noun or pronoun.
In my explanatory phrase: ‘Peter's old, French automobile’ – a noun phrase may, like any noun - be used as a subject, an object and a complement. In plain English it means that this phrase can be used in any part of a sentence, depending on its role.

Peter’s old, French automobile is in the garage.

The first noun phrase is used as a subject with ‘automobile’ being strictly a subject and ‘Peter’s old, French’ as modifiers: a possessive noun followed by two adjectives; ‘the garage’ is a noun phrase an object of a preposition ‘in’. In English there are three types of objects: a direct object, an indirect object and an object of a preposition.

Consider a sentence:
Please, pass Peter the butter. (Please, pass the butter to Peter.)

There are two nouns and two noun phrases: Peter (an indirect object) and the butter (a direct object of passing). I have found the English grammar quite difficult to explain without explaining some basic linguistic concepts; therefore, before running into all phrases and clauses I am trying to get familiar with terms used while talking about a sentence.

Consider another sentence:
Tell her what to do.

A subject is understood ‘you’, tell what? ‘what to do’ – this is a noun phrase (‘what’ is a pronoun here) and a direct object of telling ‘to whom?’. To her, so she is an indirect object in the objective case. In English this affects only pronouns, without affecting the subjective pronouns ‘you’ and ‘it’.
A subjective pronoun takes its objective case when it is used as an indirect object.
Compare:

Subjective Pronoun
Objective Pronoun
I
me
you
you
he
him
she
her
it
it
we
us
they
them
who
whom
whoever
whomever

A noun phrase as a complement follows a verb and is called a subject complement, as it gives us vital information about a subject and cannot be erased from a sentence. There are other complements, but for the time being I will concentrate only on subject complements being noun phrases.

Consider:
Peter’s old, French automobile is a scrap of metal.

The noun phrase ‘a scrap of metal’ complements the car - a subject of a sentence. This type of a noun phrase follows verbs: ‘be’ in all its forms, ‘become’ and ‘seem’, which are true linking verbs.  
Noun phrases are the most common phrases used in the English language. Mastering constructing them and linking in a sentence is one of ways on a road to become a good English writer.


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