A noun is a type of constituent that typically refers to a person, place or thing.

For example, "cat" or "triangle".


1   Etymology

late 14c., from Anglo-French noun "name, noun," from Old French nom, non (Modern French nom), from Latin nomen "name, noun". Old English used name to mean "noun."

2   Form

Simple rule:

NP -> (AP+) N (PP+)

Complex rule:

NP -> N'
N' -> (AP) N'
N' -> N' (PP)
N' -> (AP) N
N' -> N (PP)

Since we are here talking about nothing, it will be useful to refer here to some other manifestations of this strange entity, which, let us recall, is not the same as not anything. Before so doing, we may like to consider an example from English grammar which will help to explain what we are talking about. In English the plural of "horse" is "horses" and the plural of "ox" is "oxen." We can then say that to form the plural in English, we add -s and in a few cases which can be specified -en. What about "sheep"? We can say that the plural is the same as the singular. But we can regularize the situation by saying that "sheep" adds -0 which is "nothing" or, more technically, a "zero morpheme." This legal fiction is often very useful, because now all words add a morpheme to form the plural, and not just some, and it makes exceptional circumstances less awkward to handle. This is one of the "uses of nothing" as one linguist put it.

3   Nominalization

Nominalization is the use of a verb, adjective, or an adverb, as a noun.

Example: "The legislation will have the most impact on the poor" Example: "The Socialist International"

4   Recognition

4.1   Lexical projection

Identifying nouns.

  1. Can add -s to make the word plural
  2. Can fit in the frame [the _].
  3. Can function as subject in the frame [the _ is/are nice].

4.2   Intermediate projection

N' can be recognized by one substitution (= pronominalization).


The [man] did so -> The [one] did so

4.2.1   Modified by complement


The poetry book is so

The [poetry book] -> The one

The poetry [book] -> * The poetry one


The book of poems is so

The [book of poems] -> The one

The [book] of poems -> * The one of poems


The French German teacher did so

The [French German teacher] did so -> The one did so

The French [German teacher] did so -> The French one did so

The French German [teacher] did so -> * The French German one did so


The son of David did so

The [son of David] did so -> The one did so

The [son] of David did so -> * The one of David did so

Modified by an adjunct:

The [old man from the city] did so -> The one did so

The old [man from the city] did so -> The old one did so

The [old man] from the city did so -> The one from the city did so


Unclassified. Seems to suggest N' -> N (VP):

The man standing over there did so

5   Properties

Noun phrases with the same referent are said to corefer.

A binding domain is the syntactic space in which an anaphor must find its antecedent. For now, we assume this is the clause containing the anaphor. (This is over simplistic. See page 95 for more)

6   Classification

6.1   Grammatical relation

A grammatical relation is a functional relationship between constituents in a clause.

The standard examples of grammatical functions from traditional grammar are subject, direct objects, and indirect object.

Grammatical relations are defined structurally. Grammatical relations are not structural relations.

The subject of a clause is its noun phrase child.

The (direct) object of a clause is the noun phrase child of a verb phrase.

An object of preposition is a noun phrase child of a prepositional phrase.

Note:We do not define indirect object at this time.
Definition:An oblique is ...

6.2   Semantic

The distribution of noun phrases is governed by a set of binding principles.

An antecedent is a noun phrase that gives it meaning to a pronoun or anaphor. For example, in "She bopped herself", "She" is the antecedent and "herself" is the anaphor.

6.2.1   Anaphor

An anaphor is a noun phrase that depends on an antecedent for its interpretation.

For example, "myself", "yourself", "himself", "themselves", and "each other".

An anaphor must match in person, number, and gender (phi-features (by Chomsky)).

* He:sub:i hit herself:sub:i

By Principle A of GB, some noun phrase must bind an anaphor in its binding domain. For example:

He:sub:i hit himself:sub:i

* Himself:sub:i hit him:sub:i

[His:sub:i father]:sub:j hit himself:sub:j

* [His:sub:i father]:sub:j hit himself:sub:i

He:sub:i said that he:sub:i hit himself:sub:i

He:sub:i said that he:sub:j hit himself:sub:j

* He:sub:i said that he:sub:i hit himself:sub:j

* He:sub:i said that he:sub:j hit himself:sub:i

* He:sub:i said that himself:sub:i hit him:sub:j

TODO: Why is the following ungrammatical?

* Bob was hit by himself

There are at least two different kinds of anaphors:

  1. Reflexives, e.g. "herself", "themselves". Reflexives are constrained to be in the same clause.
  2. Reciprocals, e.g. "each other"

6.2.2   Pronoun

A pronoun is a noun phrase that depends on another word in context (but not necessarily the binding domain) for its referent. Typical pronouns include: he, she, it, I you, me, we, they us, him, her, them, your, my, our, their, one.

By Principle B of GB, no noun phrase may bind a pronoun in its binding domain. For example:

She:sub:i hit her:sub:j.

* She:sub:i hit her:sub:i.

She:sub:i said that she:sub:i hit her:sub:j

She:sub:i said that she:sub:j hit her:sub:i

* She:sub:i said that she:sub:i hit her:sub:i

* She:sub:i said that she:sub:j hit her:sub:j

6.2.3   Referring expression

A referring expression (= R-expression) is a noun phrase that refers to an entity in the world.

The vast majority of noun phrases are R-expressions.

By Principle C of GB, no noun phrase may bind an R-expression.

* Alice:sub:i hit Bob:sub:i

* He:sub:i hit Bob:sub:i

Note, the following sentence is ungrammatical because "Bob" does not c-command "He", not because of a violation of C.

* He:sub:i said that Bob:sub:i laughed

7   History

7.1   Government and Binding theory

Government and binding theory (GB) is a theory of the syntactic constraints on where different noun phrase types can appear in a sentence.

Different semantic types of noun phrases can only appear in certain syntactic positions that are defined using structural relations. i.e. Anaphors, pronouns, and R-expressions can only appear in specific parts of the sentence.

The idea that there should be a specialized, coherent theory dealing with this sort of phenomena originated in work in Transformational Grammar in the 1970s. This work culminated in Government and Binding Theory in the 1980s. The binding theory that became established at that time is still considered a reference point, though its validity is no longer accepted. Many theories of syntax now have a subtheory that addresses binding phenomena.

8   Representation

Noun phrases are labeled with a subscript letter, called an index, traditionally beginning with the letter i. Noun phrases that corefer are labeled with the same index and are said to be co-indexed.

9   See also

Who and whom

'Who' is the nominative form. 'Whom' is the accusative form.

For example:

Who loves you? -> John loves me.

Whom did you give it to? -> I gave it to John.

The use of 'whom' can be seen more easily with pied-piping:

To whom did you give it? -> I gave it to John.