By Udeh, MK (2022).

Greener Journal of Languages and Literature Research

ISSN: 2384-6402

Vol. 7(1), pp. 31-39, 2022

Copyright 2022, the copyright of this article is retained by the author(s)


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A comparative analysis of English and Igbo noun phrases using x bar theory



Mercy Kalu Udeh



University of Calabar, Nigeria.







Article No.: 090622081

Type: Research



The primary noun phrases in gbò have heads that demand for and select other grammatical elements that help to expand them from bare noun phrases into lexical items. This paper made use of a qualitative method of research. The reviews were both theoretical and conceptual. Sources of data include primary and secondary sources. The concept of noun phrases in the noun lexical and phrasal categories has been controversial, i.e. whether the head is initial, medial, or final in gbò. The paper made a comparative analysis of English and Igbo noun phrases using x bar theory to determine the head of a noun phrase category, its place of occurrence, the specifiers (complements) required by the heads, the semantic conditions guiding the selection and assignment of the heads in NPs. It was observed that the [NP] heads demand for complements to specify their heads. Other findings include the relator (RELT) ǹkè, in the nominal category, designates position/genitive/possession and also relates the subject (head noun) to the complement. Tone plays a role in the shape of the relator. In the complements of nouns, the IC is differentiated from the object complement.


Accepted: 09/09/2022

Published: 24/09/2022


*Corresponding Author

Mercy Kalu Udeh

E-mail: mercymichael101@



Keywords: Noun Phrase, X-bar theory, Igbo Language.








Humans' ability to communicate and exchange ideas through language is unparalleled. When used to defend one's culture, language is both a potent tool and a potent weapon. Humans are the only species capable of producing both spoken and written languages; without language, culture would be impossible to sustain. Socio-political, economic, and religious ideas are passed down the generations via the medium of language. There are many different linguistic groups and races in the globe, and each language serves as an identifier for its own group. Igbo language proficiency is crucial to the development of a strong sense of Igbo identity. Having a common language and culture has been an important factor in the political stability and power projection of many nations around the world. According to the projections of the National Population Census carried out in 2006, gbò is a significant Nigerian language and is spoken by around 27 million people. It belongs to the Igbo language family and is spoken primarily in the South Eastern region of Nigeria. Enwere (2018) places Igbo under the new Benue-Congo family of languages. Also, Blench and Mallam (2004), standing on lexicostatistic information, reclassifies gbò as West-Benue Congo language.


2.0 The Dialects of gb


Many gb dialects exist, but the number "cannot be more than 20 (Enwere, 2018). She divided the language into six dialect-groups based on its sounds and word order, with each dialect-group having a main dialect (MD) and some groups having their own sub-dialects. Niger-Igbo (NI) is spoken by people in Delta State; Inland West Igbo (IWI) is spoken by people in and around Anambra State; Inland East Igbo (IEI) is spoken by people in Abia and Imo States; and Wawa Igbo (WI) is spoken by people in Enugu and Ebonyi States. The Ar Igbo (AI) is spoken by the Archukwu people, and there is also Riverine Igbo (RI) spoken in various regions of Rivers State. Enweres categorization, which ignored the speakers' nationality and political leanings, was based on the speakers' defining characteristics.


2.1 X-Bar Theory


The X-bar theory determines which lexical items must occur in the D-structure. This is a system of grammatical analysis developed in recent generative linguistics as an alternative to traditional accounts of phrase structure and lexical categories. It is argued both that the rules of phrase structure grammar need to be more constrained and that more phrasal categories need to be recognized. In particular, within the Noun Phrase, the need is felt to recognize intermediate categories larger than the noun, but smaller than the phrase e.g. very slow or very slow vehicle, in the phrase a very slow vehicle. These are intermediate categories that have no value in the former phrase-structure models, but are given formal recognition in X-bar syntax by a system of X-bars, each identifying a level of phrasal expansion (Black 1999:5-7). The X-bar theory places emphasis on expressing general principles of Universal Grammar (U.G), instead of the peculiarities of particular languages or rules (Cook 1997:249). It is the central module for the principle and parameters approach to syntactic theory. Webelhuth (1995:17-41) notes that all other models in a way or the other pull from the basic structures the X-bar convention makes available. Cook (1988) adds that within the Chomskyan tradition, X-bar theory strives for the maximum generality, and makes statements about the phrase structures that are true for all phrases rather than those of a particular type.

The X-bar theory is evolved out of generative linguistics as an alternative to traditional account of lexical categories (N, V, P, A) and phrasal categories (NP, VP, PP, AP), recognized in the PSG (Horrocks 1987:56). The existence of intermediate nodes larger than the lexical categories and smaller than the phrasal categories were not recognized in PSG; hence, a lexical head can only project once into a maximal phrasal category (cf. Fig.1 (a) :


Fig.1 (a)




There is one and only one projection of any lexical head of a phrase, i.e. there is no intermediate category/node between the lexical and maximal projection of each of the heads. The NP dominates the categories at the same time and same level, since there is no intermediate category between them. In the example above, neither the string tall slim girl nor slim girl can form a constituent.

Radford (1997) admits the availability of intermediate category when he observed that there appears to be some supporting empirical evidence that there exists intermediate categories; and hence, the theory of syntactic categories ought to make provision for them. The X-bar convention is to make provision for these categories which fall between the lexical categories (minimal categories) and the phrasal categories (maximal categories) (Horrocks 1987). Proponents of the X1-Theory believe there must exist certain intermediate categories between the head and the maximal node NP.



3.0 Methodology


The research design employed for this study is the qualitative research design in which various research works were used as secondary sources of material. In doing this, the researcher made extensive use of the internet to get materials to enhance the development of this research. Quotations from the various works have been reproduced to show a comparative analysis of English and Igbo Noun Phrases. The method of data collection used for this research was textual.



4.1 The Noun Phrase (NP) Structure in Igbo Language


When a noun serves as the head of a phrase, the other words in the phrase, which may come either before or after the noun, are called modifiers, and they serve to narrow or narrow down the noun's scope of reference (Ndimele, 1993:43). A Noun Phrase in Igbo language can either be the noun by itself as the head, or the noun in conjunction with one or more modifiers. When broken down into its component parts, the Igbo noun phrase (NP) is made up of a noun as the head element and one or more adjectives, adverbs, or adverbial nouns as the dependents. There is a wide variety of dependents, and any NP can have as many as they like (Mbah, 2006). Adjectives, demonstratives, quantifiers, numerals, and pronominal modifiers are all recognized in Standard Igbo, as were these same classes in Igbo, along with a few others, such as the number, the relator ǹk and the pronouns themselves, among others. These are only a few examples of elements that are integral to the Igbo NP, especially the noun that serves as its head. These are:-


4.1.1 The Noun/ Noun alone (N0)


To put it simply, the noun is the most important part of the noun phrase. The noun stands alone as the topic of the sentence, without any modifying or qualifying adjectives or adverbs. This can be any noun or head word. A nouns singular form is:


1. (a) Proper names


Examples: - maka, b, Ợnị̀ch, Amaku, Peter, etc.,


with the following rule: NP→ PROP NOUN


(b) The noun can also be names of things:




ch Chair, k hand, ḿmrī water, m nose, etc


In accordance with the rules, a demonstrative (determiner) can be used with a common noun as shown:


NP/N1 → N + (DET)




2.(a) Uzo this door

Door this


(b) Ugbo ala hụ that car

Car that


(c) nwkō hụ that man

man that

The norminal categories in gbò include the nouns, pronouns (in this case, the independent pronouns), numerals, numbers and interrogatives/+WH-words, each of which forms a noun phrase; represented diagrammatically as follows:




The NP can be rewritten as:


NP → Noun (N)/ (n)


The NP can hence, expand thus:


3. (A) NP Noun (N) as in:


Aba, nwke, ch, ụkwụ

a town man, chair, leg


(B) NP Numerals (Nm) as in:


bụ̀ọ̀, ťợ, r, nrị̀, ợgū/ t nrị̀

Two, three, ten, hundred, twenty one hundred



4.1.2 The Noun with Dependents/Modifiers (Qualifiers and Specifiers)


Nouns can have constituents known as nominal modifiers in their syntax. Adjectives, demonstratives, quantifiers / plural markers, relators, and pronominal modifiers are examples of NP dependents/modifiers in Igbo language. Emenanjo (2015) coined the term "pronominal modifiers," which is used here to describe a construction that includes a noun as the head and a pronoun as a specifier/qualifier. The adjectival modifiers have also been divided into two types: pre-head adjectival modifiers and post-head adjectival modifiers.


4.1.3 Plural Markers


Plural markers turn singular nouns into plurals. A singular noun becomes countable when pluralized. Crystal (1980:238) compares numbers to the grammatical categories used to examine word classes that display singular/plural/dual contrast. In Igbo, the morphological agreement features for singular and plural are not visibly marked; instead, singular and plural are indicated by means of morphemes that stand on their own, such as the pronouns he/she and they/them: ụ́mụ́/ńdị́, (children/people) ọ́thụ́th́ several/many, express plural or a condition of more than one. Mbamba is another word that denotes multiples. A phrase can be formed with a noun and a plural marker as seen here:


NP → PL marker+N


4. Examples:


(a) ụ́mụ́ kwkwọ́


Pl + N


Children book



(b) ńdị́ mmdụ




people people

A race of people /group of people


(c) Mbamba nri


pl + N


pl+ foods

Many foods


(d) ọ́thụ́th́ ulo



Many houses


Many houses


4.1.4 The Noun with Quantifiers


Similar to the quantifier, a small number of words make up this closed class in Igbo. Like adjectives and demonstratives, quantifiers change the noun that they follow. They present and alter a compiled set of items. The quantifiers identified in gbò include: dm̀/lῑl, ǹch (all), nnị́/sọ́ọ́sọ̀ only/alone, ụ́fọ́dh̀ some/few and ọ́thụ́th́ many/several,gh/h (many/ plenteous). The quantifiers derived from numerals include, buọ̀ two, tọ́ three nọ́ four. s, s, etc. They precede the noun they modify. The list of quantifiers derived from numbers is endless.

Sọ́ọ́sọ̀/Nnị́, alone/ only, ụ́fọ́dh̀ few/some, can come before or after the noun or pronouns they modify. ọ́thụ́th́ many/several and Mbamba/h occur only head-first, while dm̀/ lῑl, ǹch (all), occur head-last. Plural pronouns take quantifiers in gbò.





5. (a) ḿmdh̀ nợ nnị́/sọ́ọ́sọ̀ (bị̀r).


(N+NUM +Q)

People four only


Only four People


(b) nnị́/sọ́ọ́sọ̀ ḿmdh̀ nợ (bị̀r).


Q + N +NUM


only people four

Only four people


(c) ọ́thụ́th́ ḿmu agbogho ( bị̀ghị́)


[Q] + [N]


Many/several young girls come neg.

Many or several girls did not come


(d) Mbamba/h ḿmdh̀ (bị̀rà)


[Q + N]


So many/plenty came


(e) ụ́fọ́dh̀ h (riri)


Q + Pro(3pl) (ate)


Some (of them) (ate)


(f) ḿmdh̀ aabuo/ tọ̀/nọ́/s/s, (bị̀r).


[N]+[ Q]


peopletwo, three four,five,six,etc,came

Two. three, four, five, six people came



(g) /H (dm̀) b l ng bị̀chr.

( lῑl)

(ǹch )

[N] + [Q]


3Pers-Pl-all live in Enugu

(They) all live in Enugu.


Quantifiers also follow the head. Some of them like dm̀/lῑl, ǹch, (all) bọ̀ two, tọ́three nọ́, four, s, five, s six, etc; cannot form the head of a syntactic unit in gbò. Quantifiers can keep their original tone when used with nouns, but when they come after other wordsespecially demonstrativesthey often lose that tone i.e. and hụ̀, or a relative clause, two of them may change their tones according to the tone rules (Emenanjọ 2015:72):




6. (a) līl bi l b

them all live in Aba

They all live in Aba


(b) dm b lb.

they all live in Aba

All of them live in Aba


(c) b̀ b lt lὸ.

The two live in one house

All of the two live in the same house



4.1.5 The Noun with the Numeral


The numeral is among the nominal elements in gbò. Examples, t, bụ̀ọ̀ two, tọ́ three, r na ise fifteen, r to thirty, iri isii sixty, iri ano fourty, etc. Numerals are words that represent quantities and figures of numbers. In addition to being used in counting, they also function as modification for specific nouns.

Commenting on their syntactic and tonal behaviors, Emenanjo (2015.40), says:


Numerals following nouns behave like nouns in second position in the associative construction. However, when a numeral with low initial syllable follows a noun with a low final syllable, both the noun and the numeral keep their natural tones.


Numerals appear in cardinal and ordinal forms. In contrast to position, a cardinal number displays amount. On the other hand, both the noun and the numeral adjust their tones in accordance with the tone rules when ordinal meaning is required. Ordinal numbers do not represent amount but rather a location. Here, tone plays a key role in conceptually separating the ordinal and cardinal numbers.


Examples 9(a)-(b) demonstrate cardinal to ordinal:-



7. (a) l + tọ́ (cardinal/quantity) (b) lō ātọ́ (ordinal/position)

house three house three

three houses third house


(a) l + nọ́ (b) ānọ́ (ordinal)

house four house four

four houses fourth house


The tone of the cardinal and ordinal differ from one another but in terms of structure, the cardinals numerals are the modifiers, whereas the ordinals word modifies the numeral. When ordinal meaning is being stated, associative constructions alter the tone pattern, while maintaining them when cardinal meaning is being used, below is the analysis:


8. (a) ḿmdụ̀ abụ̀ọ̀/tọ́ ḿmdụ̄ ābụ̀ọ̀/ātọ́


person two/three person two/three

Two/three person second/third person



(b) kwenti r kwenti īr


Phone ten Phone ten

Ten phones ten phones



Generally, numerals come after the noun in gbò phrase structure.


Meanwhile, there are some exceptions where the numeral comes before the noun. t one for example comes prior the noun. Similarly, twenty, nr̀ (hundred) or nr̀, pk one thousand one hundred pk one thousand, ǹd one milliòn, occur, pre-head or before the noun and at that instance they become heads of the syntactic units where they are found.


4.1.6 The Noun with the Relator


In gbò, an independent lexical item ǹk (Ndimele (2016 in an oral discussion), terms it particulariser, which designates position/genitive, appears in relation with the noun it modifies. The relator is the term used to refer to it in this study. One can see the relator inside the NP. The relator connects the noun phrase and the possessor through the location being possessed.




9. (a) ny ǹkē ikpe-azu


Person place/position last

Person in the last position/last person

(b) nw ǹkē āťọ́

[NOUN] + [RELT] + [NM] + [Pro.M]

Child place/position three their

their third child


(c) kwenti ǹkē Ōb


Phone that Obi

Obis phone


In 9 (a)-(c), ǹk relates āťọ́, h/ and Ōb, which are complements, to the heads ny, nw, and kwenti, respectively. Ǹk in 9 (a) and (b) designates the ordinal number.


Ǹk also behaves as a noun in some environments, such as, when it combines with demonstratives as in:


10. (a) ǹkè

thing/one this


this one


(b) ǹkè hụ̀


thing that

that one


(c) ǹkè ọzọ


thing other

The other one

(d) ǹk


Thing + me



The nominal in gbò are as follows:


NI Noun (N)

Number (Nm)

Pronoun (Pro)


Interogative (+WH)

Relator (Relt)


4.2 Maximal Expansion of the gbò NP /Complex Noun Phrase


Noun phrases in gbò can be classified as simple and complex. A complex noun phrase according to Emenanjo (2015:80) is one which comprises of one noun/nominal, accompanied by a relative clause. In gbò, an NP can be expanded as many times as possible through embedding of relative clause/clauses and other adjunctions. The NP can accommodate several relative clauses as modifiers in this situation.


Example; a NP in gbò can be expanded thus:


11. (a) Nw ahu bụ̀ Ebere.

Child this be Ebere

This child is Ebere


(b) Nwdh ọ́m wụ̀ Kaineto.

Child girl beauty is be Kaineto

This pretty girl is Kaineto.

(c) Nwa mr ḿmā.

Child is be beautiful

This child is beautiful.


(d) Okoro na-eri nri nkhụ́kh́ ụ́zọ̀.

Okoro is eating food [FACT] by side of road

Okoro is eating food by the road side.

(e) klr nwyi hῖ mgbbťr.

you greet girl child when you enter

You greeted the girl when you entered



(g) Nwyi ́m ǹk biaru wụ̀ dh Kalu.

Girl beauty this that came be Ada Kalu

The pretty girl that came is Ada Kalu.


(h) Ọ́ bụ̀ dh Ebere.

She be Ada Ebere

She is Ada Ebere


4.3. Head of the gbò Noun Phrasal Category (X1)


To this end, Mbah (1999:41) notes that "different language types show the predicate structure of heads differently." The noun phrase is a significant component of the lexical classes being discussed. Named after the syntactic category's head word, the noun, noun phrases consist of one or more nouns. The modifying element, which may be imparting information about the head's usage or form, sets the head apart from other lexical items that are comparable to it. To build grammatical structures, the head in Igbo NP chooses from a pool of complements that are not inherent to the NP. The NP head in Igbo is typically located at the beginning of the word, similar to Igbo's SVO structure (with a few outliers, as seen in the following illustrations):


(a) ụ́mụ̀ kwụ́kwọ́ ńglb Igbo


SPEC +Noun +PP


children book branch Igbo

Students of the department of Igbo,


(b) Nwọ́ch ifu




Man white fat

A fat fair man


(c) Nwdh


Noun + Dem

girl child this

this girl


(d) nwdh ợm .




girl child this pretty

this girl pretty/ beautiful


Nouns are clearly defined as ụ́mụ̀ kwụ́kwọ́ (students), NwNwdh (girl), with other elements following them as modifiers/complements. However, due to the appearance of specific lexical elements like , ńnkw and t, there are exceptions to the head initial and complement-final positions of Igbo language, it appears to contradict the initial position of the head. They are referred to as adjectives due to their characteristics and modifying roles.


Possible combination of the head noun with modifiers/ qualifiers include


NI N + N as in:

k l

rat house

house rat


NI N+Pro as in:

l n

N + Pro

house you

your house


NI → N+Q as in:


ḿmdh̀ nợ nnị́/sọ́ọ́sọ̀

people/person four only

four people only/ only four people


(c) ọ́thụ́th́ l


many houses

many houses


ụ́fọ́dh̀ h

Q + N

some them

some of them


4.Noun + Dem


NI → N + Dem as in:


girl this

this girl



N→ N+PL (Noun + plural markers)

ndị h


people thief



ụ́mụ̀ kwụ́kwọ́


children book



NI →N+ ADJ or (ADJ+N)



man white

a fair complexioned man



nwť ọ́jọ̀ǭ

child bad

bad child



/ajọ́ǭ nwt

bad child

bad child


/ajọ́ǭ ḿmụọ

bad spirit

bad spirit


NI → N + Nm or (Nm+N)


N + Nm

t ny

one preson

one person



h/ọgụ chē

twenty seats

twenty seats


N + Nm

kwụ́kwọ́ s/ r s

book five/ ten

ten/ fifty books


NI →N+RELT as in:

nwt ńk ọzọ


child the other

the other child


NI →RELT+N as in:

ńk ọzọ

thing other

the other


NI RELT+Pro as in:

ńk h


thing their

Their own


When the rules of X1 are applied, the head and its complements form a relationship in which the head has dominance over the complement (s). Since this is the case, switching the head and its complement(s) around will result in a new connection, which could lead to a nuanced interpretation or the elimination of any constraints on co-occurrence. The change of order of the following data 14 (a) and (b), accounts for the change in meaning between the two phrases; while (a) is describing an architectural pattern of a building; (b) is describing the height of the building.




12. (a) l

house height

Storey building


DP →N1+D1


(b) l l

height building

height of a building


The possible combinations of the NP with modifiers/qualifiers:


NP    N (N) (Det)


DP→ D1+ N1




1.     The major element of each noun phrase is the head and the head demands for the other constituents and the selection complies with the combinatorial possibilities existing in the language. Thus, all the noun phrasal categories have their heads which derive their names from the chief element of the phrase. The nominal category is known to subcategorize complements compulsorily to specify them, otherwise, the nominal would be vague, but the complements are not inherent. The head noun is normally head-initial, but there are cases where the modifying elements have flexible places of occurrence, making it look like the head appears at times initially, medially or finally.

2.     But contrary to Nwachukwus (1987) assertion, there is no move-alpha operation affecting either the IC or an internally licensed NP in constructions where IC licenses an internal NP, hence, it is argued that there is no motivation for such a movement operation. Thus, the internal NP is already in a Ccommanding relationship with its governor, the IC. Hence, a movement proposal for the internal NP will be ill-motivated.

3.     Noun heads in Igbo demand for complements to the right. Those that do not demand for complements are those that lack independent reference like the reflexives and reciprocals and some with words that are at the complement position by some movement transformations. While simple noun heads require complements to limit their reference, derived nouns take complements that would receive their inherent theta roles. All derived head nouns in Igbo have inherent theta roles to assign. Therefore, they demand for complements, which will receive these theta roles.





From available data; it is certain that semantic properties and an order of modification within a noun phrasal structure are crucial to complementation. These have been successfully captured in the X1-Theory, which analyses the order of modifications, and the Ɵ-theory which provides semantic information about lexical items.

It can also be observed that the rules of subcategorization that occur in sentences occur in phrases like NPs and in phrasal structures, where they may receive case assignment. Case assigners demand for noun complements to receive case features for them. As nouns occur to the right of a case assigner in structures, in the same manner, do noun complements occur to the right of a case assigner in phrasal structures.





1.     Further research work should be done on the Noun/Noun Phrase (NP)-complement relations in gbò.

2.     In the same vein, more research should be carried out on the DP Phrase using the linear correspondence axiom and the asymmetry of syntax to prove some head movements in the language as a way of handling the flexibilities in the occurrence of head-complements (the qualifying and modifying elements of the nominal head in gbò.





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Cite this Article: Udeh, MK (2022). A comparative analysis of English and Igbo noun phrases using x bar theory. Greener Journal of Language and Literature Research, 7(1): 31-39.