© 2017 Steve Campsall

modification (1)

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'.

Prepositional Phrases
These are phrases that are introduced by a preposition, of which there are about sixty in English, e.g. in, on, around, over, of.

Other Types of Modifier
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)