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Some Noun Phrase Postmodifiers

The old man with a beard here very often dances

Although adjective phrases normally precede the noun they modify as premodifiers, they can come after it, as postmodifiers. We do not always recognize them as adjectives when they are in the postmodifying position. Most of us think of attorney general as some kind of compound noun, but the general in this title is an adjective:

(1) The attorney general sued.

Adjective phrases can include complements like the prepositional phrase in sentence (2), in which case they normally follow the noun:

(2) The attorney, confident of victory, sued.

Optionally, adjectives can follow the noun they modify when there is more than one adjective, as in sentence (3), or when one simply feels like waxing poetic, as in sentence (4):

(3) Tom, happy and triumphant, raised his arms.
(4) I sing the body electric.

Premodifying participles can also become postmodifiers, and generally must do so if they have complements:

(5) The watching crowd was still.
(6) The crowd watching was still.
(7) The crowd, watching in horror, was still.
Some words and phrases which can modify nouns normally appear Both adverb phrases and prepositional phrases can appear in that position when modifying nouns, as well as in the predicative position. Relative clauses are also postmodifying adjectivals, but we'll put them off for a bit.

Adverb and Adverb Phrases as PostModifiers of Nouns. The traditional adverb category includes a wide variety of words, most of which can modify verbs and/or whole sentences. So far we've dealt with adverbs of frequency (like often) and intensifiers (like very), an unusual kind of adverb that modifies adjectives or other adverbs. We'll take up more such uses later. Right now, let's look at two kinds of adverbs which can serve adjectival functions--that is, can modify nouns--adverbs of place (also called locatives) and adverbs of time.

Both place and time adverbs can modify verbs, in which case they normally come at the end of the sentence but can be moved around:

(8) The victim fell here.
(9) Here the victim fell.
(10) The fat lady sang now.
(11) Now the fat lady sang.

But place and time adverbs can also appear in the predicative position we used in our last section to help identify adjectives, and in such cases they are modifying the subject noun. The same adverbs can appear as postmodifiers in noun phrases:

(12) The old man is here.
(13) The old man here speaks English.
(14) The meeting was yesterday.
(15) The meeting yesterday was boring.

Like adjectives, most adverbs can be preceded by intensifiers (degree words) like very. In the resulting adverb phrase, the intensifier is serving as the specifier. This is true of all adverb phrases, including the adverbs of frequency which themselves serve as specifiers for verb: phrases, as in sentence (17):

(16) A meeting very soon is necessary.
(17) The old man very often dances.

Prepositions and Prepositional Phrases. Some of the word categories mentioned so far--nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs--are open classes of words. New words in such categories are being added to the language daily, adding freshness to the language and giving employment to dictionary-makers. Other categories, like articles, have not changed for many centuries. Prepositions, articles, and the other words which can fill the determiner position, are closed classes, to which new words are added very slowly if at all. Like the open classes, however, prepositions can serve as the heads of phrases.

Prepositional phrases (often abbreviated as PP) can have a degree word as their specifier and almost always have a noun phrase as their complement. Such phrases serve both adjectival and adverbial functions in sentences. Some prepositions are particularly associated with certain kinds of functions--e.g., near with adverbials of place and during with adverbials of time--but others (on, to) have multiple uses:

(18) A meeting on the weekend stinks.
(19) The fish on the table stinks.

Multiple Postmodifiers. English grammar allows for multiple postmodifiers in a noun phrase, but loading up on them can sound a bit awkward:

(20) The man with a beard here very often dances.
When we add in the possibility of relative clauses as postmodifiers, which we'll discuss later, the distance between the head noun of the noun phrase and the verb it is supposed to agree with can grow uncomfortably long.

Agreement Problems with Postmodifiers. Even with a single prepositional phrase as a postmodifier, confusion can arise when the prepositional phrase includes a noun phrase which differs in number from the head noun:

(21) (a) The man with the warts dances.
(b) *The man with the warts dance.
(22) (a) The men in armor dance.
(b) *The men in armor dances.
It is the head noun of the subject noun phrase which determines the number of the verb. In traditional terms, the head noun (i.e., man or men) is the simple subject of the sentence, while the complete subject would be the full noun phrase.

Exercise 1: Complete and Simple Subjects

For the sentences below, identify the complete subject and simple subject.
1.01 A girl sweet as honey came to my rescue.
1.02 The park at night is dangerous.
1.03 The hungry rabbit ran away.
1.04 The guy outside in a camper has been stalking me.
1.05 The man with a cold sneezed.
1.06 The bear, large and fierce, scared away the campers.
1.07 The pure in heart will triumph one of these days.
1.08 Golden dreams often prove lead.
1.09 The girl over there has been giving me the eye.
1.10 A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Trees With Adverbs and Prepositional Phrases. Again, our main object in drawing phrase structure trees for longer noun phrases is to show what goes with what. A post-modifying prepositional phrase needs to be shown as deriving from the noun phrase headed by the noun it modifies, and has having a noun phrase as its own complement. If an adjective or adverb is preceded by a intensifier, they need to be grouped together. Let us suppose we are starting with a sentence like this:

(23) The old man with the beard here very often dances

This sentence can be represented as a single independent clause or IP. We begin by separating the specifier of the IP (the complete subject NP) from the rest of it (the I-bar):

Then we separate the subject noun phrase into its specifier (the determiner) and the rest of the phrase:

Next, we separate the rest of the phrase into the head noun and its various modifying phrases. Since the premodifying adjective phrase consists only of an adjective, we'll label it as such (Adj). We'll do the same with the place adverbial here (Adv). The other postmodifier is a prepositional phrase:

Still working at dividing the initial noun phrase into parts, we have to divide up the prepositional phrase. It has no specifier, so we'll just divide it between the head P and the noun phrase complement (NP):

This last noun phrase is buried deep within our original noun phrase. It has a specifier, but since the rest of the phrase consists only of the head noun, we don't need another level to make relationships clear:

Now we can work on the rest of the IP (I', which will divide into the I element and its verb phrase complement VP. The sentence is in the present tense, so we'll indicate that the I component is not marked for past (-Pst):

The verb phrase divides into a specifier, an adverb phrase (AdvP, and the rest of the phrase, which is just the head verb:

Finally, the specifiying adverb phrase is itself headed by an adverb of frequency with an intensifying adverb as a specifier. We can label them as such or we can just note that they are both adverbs:

How Much of This Will be on the Test?
We have now touched on the five most important parts of speech--noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition--and you should be prepared to recognize them in sentences. If you have trouble with prepositions, try memorizing a list of the major ones. There are some handy songs for doing so out on the Internet. The five word categories just mentioned are sometimes called lexical categories because they carry most of the meaning of sentences. The first four are open classes of words, with new ones being added to the language daily. Prepositions are a closed class. The postmodifying adjectivals in this section can make it a bit harder to pick out the simple subject and complete subject of a sentence, and you should be prepared to do so.