Nominal Group in English: Definition, Functions and Examples

Nominal Group in English: Definition, Functions and Examples

When you see the word ‘nominal’, it is a simple reference to the word ‘noun’! It is such a very important group in the English language. So the post, Nominal Group in English: Definition, Functions and Examples provides answers to all the questions you might have as far as this group is concerned. If you have any questions, send them right to me in the comment box and I will reply you.

Nominal Group: A Definition

So what is the nominal group? The nominal group is one of the groups in English and it consists of a group of words with a noun or pronoun as the headword. The structure of a nominal group comprises the modifier (m) which is the element that appears before the headword, the headword (h) itself which usually a noun and the qualifier (q) which is the element that occurs after the headword. Of these three constituents, both the modifier and the qualifier are optional elements.

Nominal Group in English: Definition, Functions and Examples

Let us begin this discourse with the types of nominal groups in English.

 Types of the Nominal Group

The nominal group has two distinct types. These are:

A Noun-headed Nominal Group

This has a noun as the headword. for example:

  • Some boys stole the ball. (m, h)
  • The cruel dictator is dead. (m, m, h)
  • My father bought a new car.

Adjective-headed Nominal Group

This has an adjective as the headword. This normally comes up under the complement aspect but can also feature in the subject position. For instance:

  • The room is too dirty. (m, h) ‘Dirty’ is the headword, while ‘too’ is the modifier.
  • The man is very poor. (m, h)
  • His father is very poor (m, h, q)
  • The rich also cry. (m, h)
  • The helpless in the society have resigned to fate.
  • The delinquent squandered his father’s resources.

 Possible Structural Arrangement of the Nominal Group

 There are about four (4) possible structural arrangements of the nominal group and they include:

  1. The unmodified head type consisting of only the headword (the h type):
  • [Students] could be mischievous.
  • [Dogs] are domestic animals.
  • [Soldiers] could be surprisingly tender.
  • [Police] are supposedly your friends.
  1. The pre-modified head type comprising the modifier (which could be up to six (6) and the headword (the mh type):
  • The [man] is here. (1 modifier)
  • His mother’s [purse] is missing. (2 modifiers)
  • The four noisy [students] were punished. (3 modifiers)
  • The two new bulletproof [cars] had no duty papers… (m, m, m, h) (4 modifiers)
  • The big brown American leather [bag] is rather expensive (5 modifiers)
  • Our current democracy’s insidious repercussive and cataclysmic [exigencies] are unfounded. (6 modifiers)
  1. The post-modified head type consisting of the headword plus the qualifier (the hq type):
  • [Alexander], the great was a great king.
  • [Something] good is about to happen.
  • [She] herself is to blame.
  • [They] themselves caused the problem.
  1. The pre and post modified head type comprising the modifier, the headword and the qualifier (the mhq type):
  • The beautiful [girl] on the bed is my daughter.
  • The yellow [cab] in the line is new.
  • The [amount] we paid is too much.
  • The [flight] to Amsterdam was eventful.

Note: we enclose the headwords in 1 – 4 in square brackets.

 The Constituents of the Modifiers

 The following grammatical entities can occupy the position of the modifier in a nominal group. They include:

  • Determiners – a determiner is a word which ‘determines’ or ‘specifies’ how we should understand the reference of a noun phrase. E. g. some boys, any leader, many articles, much money, this table, each one, etc.
  • Articles e. g. the bag, a European, an eagle, etc.
  • Genitive, Deictic or the Possessive e. g. James’ pen, Sandra’s purse, children’s class, His father’s property, etc.
  • Adjectives e. g. beautiful girl, fat lady, slim chance, rich ones, poor masses, etc.
  • Verbal Nouns, Gerunds or Progressive forms (-ing) e. g. sleeping beauty, dancing doll, swimming team, etc.
  • Perfective forms – (ed/en’) e. g. frightened kid, convicted man, threatened citizens, expected largesse, etc.

The Constituents of the Qualifiers

 The following grammatical entities can occupy the position of the qualifier in a nominal group. They include:

  • Adverbs e. g. there, here, etc.
  • Adverbial groups e. g. in the class, on the field, from the city, under the table, over the bar, near the corner, etc.
  • Verbal Nouns, Gerunds or Progressive forms (-ing) e. g. the man standing over there (m, h, q), the girl running on the field, (m, h, q) many politicians canvassing for votes, etc.
  • Perfective forms – (ed/en’) e. g. the man disturbed, (m, h, q), the girl threatened, (m, h, q), etc.
  • Clause – finite or non-finite e.g. the woman shouting for help, (non-finite clause) the woman who is shouting for help, (finite clause) etc.

Syntactic Functions of Nominal Groups

 The nominal group or noun phrase performs several syntactic functions. Let us consider some of these functions:

The subject of a sentence

Consider the following examples:

  • The cows went berserk.
  • The man’s eldest son was elected governor.
  • Paul, the Apostle wrote two-thirds of the New Testament.

 Direct Object

See the following sentences:

  • The Senator stole a large amount of money.
  • The judge transferred the accused case.
  • They have found the thief.

 Indirect Object

Consider the following examples:

  • My mother gave the beggar her old clothes
  • The Registrar bought the clerk a new motorcycle.
  • The governor built the students a laboratory.
  • He bought his wife an expensive ring.

 A complement of the Subject or Subject Complement

See these illustrations:

  • He is an enterprising entrepreneur.
  • She is a kind-hearted philanthropist.
  • The president is a good leader.
  • He seems a nice fellow.
  • Fela calls himself the weird one.

 A complement of the Object or Object Complement

Let us demonstrate this with the following sentences:

  • Americans elected Donald Trump their President.
  • They called him a thief.
  • Maxwell classifies himself a hacker.
  • We chose John our captain.
  • The university appointed him its worthy foreign representative.

Functions as Apposition

Apposition has to do with the relationship between two usually consecutive nouns or noun phrases that refer to the same person or thing and have the same relationship to other sentence elements. So, a nominal group functions as apposition. Examples include:

  • Mahatma Gandhi, the most important leader for independence, appeared to his followers as the quintessence of the Hindu tradition.
  • Dave Johnson, my famous colleague, is quite cerebral.
  • Tequila, a powerful Mexican drink, is expensive and stronger in flavour.

 Completive of a Prepositional Phrase

(Check the explanatory post on Prepositional phrase)

See the following:

  • The ball went over the bar.
  • He sat on the office table.
  • He ran across the field.
  • She came into the house.
  • The frightened students ran to the principal’s office.

 What a detailed discussion on the Nominal Group in English! I know you will want to check our posts on the other groups in English that make up the structure of the English simple sentence: the adverbial group, the verbal group and the prepositional group.

See also the post on English Appositions. Kindly share this knowledge with your friends so that all of us can be well informed and properly educated in the Queen’s language!


    1. A prepositional headed adverbial and a nominal group (acting as an adjective) can operate as qualifiers to the head. For example:
      The boy IN GREEN SHIRT (Prepositional headed adverbial)
      Alexander THE GREAT (Nominal group acting as an adjective)

  1. Please what is the element of nominalization of prayer pray through the night.prayer underlined
    And.That you did not pray is enough for you to fail.what is the grammatical construction.That you did not pray underlined

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