Premodifiers in Noun Phrases

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Nouns are often used as premodifiers. Noun + noun sequences have just one content words. Their purpose is to make the information shorter. They depend on implicit meaning, because the reader has to recognize the logical relationship between the premodifying noun and head noun. As a result, we have a rather confusing group of logical relations.

The head noun is labeled N2 and the premodifying noun N1: 1.composition (N2 is made from N1- N2 consists of N1)  2.purpose (N2 is for the purpose N1 – N2 is used for N1)  3.identity (N2 has the same referent as N1 but classifies in terms of different attributes)  4.content (N2 is about N1 – N2 deals with N1)  5.objective (N1 is the object of the process described in N2, or of the action performed by the agent described in N2)  6.subjective (N1 is the subject of the process described in N2 – N2 is usually a nominalization of an intransitive verb) 7.time (N2 is found or takes place at the time given by N1)  8.location (N2 is found or takes place at the location given by N1)  9.institution (N2 identifies an institution for N1)  10.partitive (N2 identifies parts of N1)  11.specialization (N1 identifies an area of specialization for the person or occupation given in N2 – N2 is animate. (Birber, Conrad and Geoffrey, 2002 : 274/275). 

The above mentioned definitions are exemplified by the following noun phrases: 1.composition: china angel – angel made from china  2.purpose: cosmetic organizer – organizer used for cosmetics  3.identity: students activists – students who are activists   4.content: sports article – an article about sports  5.objective: bridge construction – X constructs bridges  6.subjective: student education – students are educated  7.time: Easter celebration – celebration that takes place during Easter holidays  8.location: living room sofa – a sofa that is located in the living room   9.institution: shoe store – store for selling shoes  10.partitive: lion mane – mane of a lion  11.specialization: pediatrician dentist – dentist who specializes in children dental care.   Plural nouns as premodifiers often occur before collective nouns: ``parks department, courses committee, examinations board``. (Quirk, Greenbaum, Geoffrey and Svartik, 1985 : 1334).  Plural nouns also occur before names of institutions, which are heads: ``Chesterfield Hospitals Management Committee, the British Museum Prints and Drawings Gallery. (Qirk, Greenbaum, Geoffrey and Svartik, 1985 : 1334).  English nouns that are exclusively used in the plural form are called pluralia tantum. Pluralia tantum preserve their plural because they have no singular: cattle breed, gentry magazine and vermin control.

A lot of noun phrases have numerous premodifiers. Despite the fact that there are no definite rules, there are several general tendencies dictating the order of multiple premodifiers. Generally, adverbs come before adjectives because they modify the subsequent adjective: a rather cold night and an absolutely wonderful novel. Adjectives also precede the noun in noun phrases. The following noun phrases show these tendencies: cute summer dress, pink cotton blouse and decreasing life insurance. When a noun phrase consists of two adjectives, descriptors precede classifiers. Descriptors are adjectives that describe emotion, age, weight, size, color and any other characteristics. The classifiers limit the entity to a subclass.  The following examples illustrate this sequence: modern electric lamp, dark sad eyes and pretty French dress.   Coordinating premodifiers are very complicated.

Multiple premodification also implies that premodifying may be coordinated. There are examples of coordinated premodifiers. She was absent and forgetful person. He gave me honey and jam jars. However, many examples can be found of coordinated premodifiers which belong to different categories: hydraulic and fuel lines and parochial or district situation.  (Pastor Gomez, 2009 : 26, 27).


1. Biber, Douglas, Conrad, Susan and Leech Geoffrey. (2002). Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. The United Kingdom: Pearson Education.

2. Quirk, Randolph, Greenbaum, Sidney, Geoffrey, Leech and Svartik, Jan. (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. United States: Longman.

3.  Pastor Gomez, Iria. (2009). Nominal Modifiers in Noun Phrase Structure: Evidence from Contemporary English. Santiago: Univ. Santiago de Compostela.

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