Snapshot Grammar – What is an Expanded Noun Phrase?

Every expanded noun phrase is a noun phrase but not all noun phrases are expanded noun phrases.

Most teachers lead with the explanation that a noun phrase is a determiner + a noun. In order to make an expanded noun phrase, children are usually taught that you add an adjective to a noun and a determiner. This would make an expanded noun phrase, but this is not the only way to make an expanded noun phrase and as such it is not really correct to teach this as the only way. It’s also quite stilted. First off, there are other ways to make expanded noun phrases.

I’ll use the noun ‘bowl’ as my example (as in the type you eat from).

Expanding with an adjective…
bowl = noun
any determiner + bowl(s) = noun phrase e.g. the bowl, these bowls, some bowls

any determiner + any adjective + bowl = expanded noun phrase e.g. a big bowl

It’s worth noting here that you can of course add more than one adjective (please don’t call these ‘two a sentences’, it’s a noun phrase expanded by two adjectives).

It doesn’t have to be an adjective that expands the noun phrase though. Another exemplar method of expansion would be expanding with a noun adjunct…
bowl = noun
any determiner + bowl(s) = noun phrase e.g. the bowl, these bowls, some bowls
any determiner + any attributive noun(s) + bowl = expanded noun phrase e.g. a soup bowl, a chicken soup bowl – these expand our understanding of the detail of the bowl being described, so they are an expanded noun phrase, but they do not feature an adjective, only a noun adjunct serving the purpose of attributing further detail to the noun in the noun phrase.
The last example I will list here is expanding with deverbals and verbal noun phrases, both of which are a type of noun phrase that has been expanded…
bowl = noun
any determiner + bowl(s) = noun phrase e.g. the bowl, these bowls, some bowls
any determiner + deverbal or verbal adjunct + bowl = expanded noun phrase e.g. an uneaten bowl, a bowl to eat
You can use any of these expanded noun phrases in sentences but they would all generally need another verb to make it a sentence. For example, ‘a bowl to eat’ seems like it has a verb ‘to eat’ but being such an infinitive makes it function differently. In a sentence you could use it as follows:’A cruel guard passed me a bowl to eat.’

That sentence includes two expanded noun phrases and the functioning verb ‘passed’.

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Now I’m not suggesting we teach children about noun adjuncts or about deverbals and all the rest, but I’d also argue that there is little value in teaching them the vocabulary of ‘expanded noun phrases’ – most people can write perfectly well never knowing that term.

Instead, wouldn’t it be nice to just show great examples by reading fantastic texts with children or by encouraging them to read as much as possible. That way, they’ll see expanded noun phrases, noun adjuncts and deverbals being used with purpose and they can see how useful they’d be as a tool in their own writing.