English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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English: skills for learning

2.6 Learning to recognise and use noun groups

Perhaps the most effective way to learn how to use noun groups is by noticing them in your readings and then trying to express yourself in the same way when writing formal texts.

University students meet noun groups in their textbooks. Very often these noun groups are technical terms that students need to learn and reuse in their assignments. The example below, again taken from the Open University course S104 Exploring science, uses the technical terms ‘total rate of energy gain’, ‘total rate of energy loss’ and ‘Earth’s surface’.

Described image
Figure 6 Technical terms

Activity 5

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Read this extract again from The Guardian newspaper which you read in Week 2, and carry out the following two tasks:

  1. Write down all the noun groups that you can find in the article.
  2. Identify the main noun in each group.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said the absolute child poverty goal was "simply unattainable" and that this was on course to be the first *decade since records began in 1961 not to see a fall in absolute child poverty. […]

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, argues that addressing poverty by just increasing benefits is flawed and the root causes must be addressed by getting more parents into jobs. But the commission says "ending poverty mainly through the labour market does not look remotely realistic by 2020". In too many cases it simply moves children from low income workless households to low income working households.

(Sparrow, 2014)
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Here is a list of the noun groups contained in the extract. The main nouns are in bold.

  • The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission
  • the absolute child poverty goal
  • the first decade since records began in 1961
  • a fall in absolute child poverty
  • the work and pensions secretary
  • the root causes
  • more parents
  • the labour market
  • too many cases
  • children from low income workless households
  • low income working households


This article contains a large number of noun groups. Some of them are quite long and convey a great deal of information in a very precise and concise way. Expressing content in this way is a feature of the academic style, as you saw in Week 6.

Noticing these noun groups not only helps you to get used to this style but also to learn some useful combinations of words that are typical of a specific subject. For example, the expression ‘root causes’ is used in many academic fields and ‘child poverty’, ‘absolute child poverty’ and ‘low income households’ are very often used as technical terms in Social Sciences subjects such as Economics and Politics. If you were to study these subjects, it would be a good idea to make a note of these noun groups and use them in your writing.


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