© 2017 Steve Campsall
The man slipped.
The purpose of a sentence is to communicate an idea that exists in the mind. Despite the English language having around half a million words, these can still lack the kind of precision needed for effective communication. This means that words often need a little extra help. In the case of nouns, for example, an adjective can provide this.
This process of refining the semantic value of a word is called modification. This can be easily done:
The drunken young man slipped.
The noun, 'man', has now been modified. This has been achieved by a process called pre-modification using three words that add further qualities to the original noun: The + drunken + young.
There are four main ways to modify a noun, by adding adjectives, determiners or prepositional phrases.
These are often called describing words, and in the above example, the adjective 'drunken' has been used to pre-modify the noun, 'man'.
Another important kind of modifier is called a determiner. These are small words that are placed at the beginning of a noun phrase, e.g. 'Those old men cried'.
An article is a particular type of determiner of which there are two: the indefinite article, 'a' or 'an' and the definite article, 'the'.
Articles create the idea of either a non-specific or a specific variety of the noun they modify, e.g. the cat = definite; a cat = indefinite.
These are phrases that are introduced by a preposition, of which there are about sixty in English, e.g. in, on, around, over, of.
A prepositional phrase can act to post-modify a noun, as in, 'The man in a drunken state...'; 'A town of red brick...' or 'A woman of great renown...'
Other Types of
Note that whilst determiners, adjectives and prepositional phrases are the most common ways to modify a noun, other word-classes can also act as modifiers, e.g. other nouns and some non-finite forms of verbs:
The camera man... (noun)
The running man... (-ing verb form)
The chased man...(-ed verb form)