Grammar | Band 7 Noun Phrases Series

IELTS Lessons, written by Sam Morgan and Tom Speed

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​Next in our series of posts on how to reach a band 7 in grammar is how to form complex noun phrases.

If you haven't checked them out yet, the other lessons in the Band 7 series can be found on our grammar page.

​Effectively using complex noun phrases makes your writing more academic and precise. Articles written by native speakers generally contain a lot of complex noun phrases and so studying these phrases will help you with reading comprehension as well.

This post will:
  • …start with the basics of noun phrases.
  • …help you to identify post modified noun phrases.
  • …give you practice writing complex noun phrases.

The Basics

We can modify nouns. This means that other words are used with nouns to provide more precise information.
For example:
  1. The sofa (determiner + noun)
  2. Fat cat (adjective + noun)
  3. Our fattest cat (determiner + adjective + noun)
  4. All the potatoes (quantifier + determiner + noun)
  5. Both of my recent successes (quantifier + determiner + adjective + noun)
You should already be familiar with how to modify noun phrases by using quantifiers, determiners and adjectives. Now let’s look at some more complex noun phrases.

Post Modifying Nouns

Post means after. In order to create complex noun phrases, we put information after the noun we are modifying. A number of different grammatical structures can be used for doing this.
Look at the examples of post modified nouns below. The main noun (head) is in bold.
​ ​
  1. The percentage of people in full time work increased steadily.
  2. People owning their own homes are angry with the new tax.
  3. Both of the people who I share a flat with are nurses.
  4. I dislike the idea that public transportation is only for the poor.
  5. I like anything to do with astronomy.

Each example shows a different structure post modifying the noun in bold. Let’s investigate what they are.

  1. Prepositional phrases (preposition + noun). Prepositional phrases starting with the preposition ‘of’ are very common in academic writing: the amount of… / the number of … / the percentage of …
  2. ing-verb phrase
  3. Relative clause
  4. 'That' clause (often used to explain, summarize or report)
  5. To Infinitive (to +verb) This is very common after indefinite pronouns and adverbs
​Noun phrases are often modified by more than one structure. For example:

Antique cars, which are bought in SE Asia, are resold in Australia

​The noun ‘cars’ is pre modified with the adjective ‘antique’.
It is post modified with a relative clause (which…bought) and a prepositional clause (in…Asia).

Exercise 1

​The head of each noun phrase is in bold. How are these noun phrases post modified?
Choose an option from the drop down box.

1. The fact that people didn’t vote for him lost him the election.
2. The man living next door to me is very friendly.
3. The amount of money goes up every year.
4. The report which the government released proved to be very controversial.
5. The proportion of unemployed mothers fell through the nineties.
6. People laughed at the decision that the local community should fund the project.
7. Buckingham palace in central London must be one of the most expensive houses in the world.
8. As she got older, my grandma needed someone to help her around the house.
9. I really like watching documentaries concerning the natural world.
10. A successful small restaurant which is in my hometown is an Italian called Rolling Fork.
11. The main reason for migration was economic.
12. I work for an organization providing free legal aid.

​Great, now you can identify some different types of post modification and so you can start to apply them to your writing. Let's try another task to give you more confidence.

Arrange the sentences by clicking on a word, then clicking again on a gap.
the · task · of · the · point
Click or touch a word above
1. is to test your ability to use complex noun phrases.
Click or touch a word above
2. .
Click or touch a word above
3. .
Click or touch a word above
4. .
Click or touch a word above
5. was very dramatic.
Click or touch a word above
6. Please buy me .
make · a decision · to · which · was · hard
Click or touch a word above
7. was when we were looking for a new house to buy.
bees · around · summer · flying · in · late
Click or touch a word above
8. can be very aggressive.

If you got all these correct great job. ​To improve your use of complex noun phrases you should:
  • Notice how nouns are modified when you are doing reading practice with academic texts written by native speakers.
  • Notice how nouns are modified when you are reading example task 1 and 2 responses written by tutors or examiners.
  • Try and use complex noun phrases when you write so you become more used to incorporating them into how you communicate.

We hope this has been useful for you. Leave a comment below if you have any questions.

Check out Complex Noun Phrases Quiz 2 for more!