Premodifiers and Postmodifiers masterclass

This lesson helps you understand what premodifiers and postmodifiers are, and how to use them correctly in a sentence.

What is a modifier?

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that gives information about something in a sentence. It generally is an adjective or an adverb. An adjective modifies a noun, and an adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.

He is a smart man.

The word ‘smart’ is working as an adjective here; it is modifying the noun ‘man’.

Jon runs fast.

The word ‘fast’ is working as an adverb here; it is modifying the verb ‘runs’, telling us the manner of the action.

Jon is extremely smart.

The word ‘extremely’ is working as an adverb here, modifying the adjective ‘smart’.

Jon runs very fast.

Here, both ‘fast’ and ‘very’ are adverbs. The word ‘fast’ is modifying the verb ‘runs’ and the adverb ‘very’ is modifying the adverb ‘fast’, telling us the intensity of the action.

Modifiers are divided into two categories based on their placements in the sentence:

  1. Premodifiers
  2. Post modifiers

Premodifiers and postmodifiers are used in noun phrases to modify the head (noun) of the noun phrase. A noun phrase is comprised of a noun and pre and post-modifiers.

Premodifiers and postmodifiers
Premodifiers and postmodifiers

Premodifiers

Premodifiers are words that come before a noun and give information about it. We have three things in pre-modifiers:

  1. Determiners
  2. Numbers
  3. Adjectives

A) Determiners

Determiners are words that determine the quantity of a noun or indicate which noun the speaker is referring to. Determiners include the following: 

  • Articles = a, an, the
  • Possessive adjectives = my your, his, her, their, our, its
  • Demonstrative adjectives = this, that, these, those
  • Distributive adjectives = each, Every, either, neither, any, both, etc
  • Quantifiers = Some, many, a few, the few, a lot of, several, etc
PremodifiersMeaningExamples
Articlesa, an = refers to an unspecified
singular countable noun

the = refers to a specified
singular countable noun
This is a book.
I don’t have an apple.
The movie was great.
Possessive adjectivesrefers to the possession of a nounMy house is not as big as yours.
I love your dog.
You can’t question his loyalty.
Demonstrative adjectivesrefers to a noun that is close
or far away from the speaker
Don’t touch this box.
They are planning to cut that tree.
These candies are delicious.
Do you know those people?
Distributive adjectivesrefers to members of a group separatelyYou can take either box.
Neither team deserved to win the match.
Every team played well.
Quantifiersto talk about the number of
the noun
Bring some books to read.
I have a few friends to meet.
Many people are waiting to see me fall.
There is a lot of money in this.

Note: the texts in red are noun phrases. It has a noun and a determiner.

B) Numbers

Numbers include both cardinal and ordinal numbers. They also give information about a noun; they talk about the exact quantity (number) of the noun they modify.

one, two, three first, second, third…

Examples:

  • Simra has two cars.
  • I bought 5 laptops last month.
  • This is my first trip to Auli.
  • She was his second wife.

Note: Numbers are considered a part of quantifiers only. But we keep them separate as they refer to specific quantifies.

C) Adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe a noun. Here are some common adjectives in English: good, bad, smart, beautiful, foolish, rich, poor, intelligent, dumb, wise, ugly, tall, huge, talented, kind, cruel, short, fat, slim, etc.

Examples:

  • It is a big hotel. We all can stay here.
  • He is a tall man.
  • We need some talented people to run our business.
  • You are an old fighter.

Other types of adjectives

  1. Present participle adjective
  2. Past participle adjective
  3. Noun adjective

Examples:

  • It is an exciting movie to watch. (present participle = exciting)
  • This is a motivating story. (present participle = motivating)
  • A motivated man can do anything. (past participle = motivated)
  • They need a wriiten apology. (past participle = written)
  • Neha got me a leather bag. (noun that’s working as an adjective)
  • It is an action movie. (noun that’s working as an adjective)

Position of premodifiers

Use two or more pre-modifiers in the following structure: Determiners + Numbers + Adjectives + Noun

Examples:

  • Look at those three huge trees in his backyard.
  • We can’t eat these many dark chocolates.

NOTE: We can’t use two or more types of determiners in a noun phrase.

  • A this man
  • My this car

But we do use the following structure: quantifiers + OF + possessive adjective + noun

  • Some of my friends
  • None of your projects
  • One of his students

Examples:

  • Some of my friends will stay here.
  • They didn’t like none of your proects.
  • We are talking about one of his students.

NOTE: the combination of a premodifier/s and the noun it modifies is called a noun phrase. A noun phrase can be formed in three different ways:

  • Premodifier/s + noun
  • Noun + postmodifier/s
  • Premodifier/s + noun + postmodifier/s

Postmodifiers

Postmodifiers are words that come after a noun and give information about it. There are 6 things that come in post-modifiers:

  1. Prepositional phrases
  2. Present participle phrases
  3. Past participle phrases
  4. Infinitive phrases
  5. Relative/Adjective clauses
  6. Appositives

They all are called postmodifiers as they come right after the noun they modify.

Prepositional phrase

A prepositional phrase starts with a preposition and is followed by the object of the preposition. When a preposition phrase comes right after a noun and modifies it, we call it a postmodifier.

Examples:

  • The house across the street is believed to be haunted.

Noun phrase = the house across the street
Premodifiers = the
Noun = house
Postmodifier = across the street (prepositional phrase)

Here, the prepositional phrase ‘across the street’ modifies the noun ‘house‘ and tells us which house we are referring to in the sentence.

  • The guy in the blue shirt is my neighbor.

Noun phrase = the guy in the blue shirt
Premodifiers = the
Noun = guy
Postmodifier = in the blue shirt (prepositional phrase)

Which guy is my neighbor? The prepositional phrase ‘in the blue shirt’ identifies the noun guy. Not any guy present there is my neighbor; the guy in the blue shirt is my neighbor.

  •  They are writing a movie about his life.

Noun phrase = a movie about his life
Premodifiers = the
Noun = man
Postmodifier = about his life (prepositional phrase)

The prepositional phrase ‘about his life‘ modifies the noun ‘movie’ and helps us to understand which movie the speaker is talking about writing. It is starting with the preposition ‘about’ and is followed by the object of the preposition his life.

Present participle phrase

A present participle phrase starts with a present participle (a verb ending with ‘ING’), sits next to a noun, and modifies it.

I was talking about the man sitting next to your sister.

Noun phrase = the man sitting next to your sister
Premodifiers = the
Noun = man
Postmodifier = sitting next to your sister (present participle phrase)

The present participle phrase (in red) is coming next to and modifying the noun ‘man’. It is working as an adjective.

Note that a present participle phrase is a reduced adjective phrase.

  • I was talking about the man sitting next to your sister. (present participle phrase)
  • I was talking about the man who is sitting next to your sister. (adjective clause)

More examples:

  • The man talking to Amy is a professional singer.
  • I will talk to the students protesting outside the college.
  • Nobody likes to talk with the man sitting on the rock alone.

Past participle phrase

A past participle phrase starts with a past participle (V3), sits next to a noun, and modifies it.

We have come here to see the boy injured in the attack.

Noun phrase = the boy injured in the attack
Premodifier = the (article)
Noun = boy
Postmodifier = injured in the attack (past participle phrase)

Here, the past participle phrase is identifying the noun ‘boy’ and giving essential information for us to identify him.

Note that a past participle phrase is a reduced adjective phrase.

  • We have come here to see the boy injured in the attack. (past participle phrase)
  • We have come here to see the boy who was injured in the attack. (adjective clause)

Examples:

  • The man taken to the police station is a terrorist.
  • The actor approached for this role is busy with his own project right now.
  • They are still searching for the bike stolen from this park last month.

Infinitive phrases

A group of words that starts with an infinitive and works as a noun, adjective, or adverb is called an infinitive phrase. As a post modifier, it functions as an adjective; it comes right after a noun and modifies it.

The guy to learn SEO from is Mangesh Kumar Bhardwaj.

Noun phrase = the guy to learn SEO from
Premodifier = the
Noun = guy
Postmodifier = to learn SEO from (infinitive phrase)

‘To learn SEO from’ is an infinitive phrase that’s modifying the noun ‘guy’.

We are looking for a house to buy.

Noun phrase = a house to buy
Premodifier = a
Noun = house
Postmodifier = to buy (infinitive)

‘To buy’ is an infinitive that’s working as a postmodifier in the noun phrase. It is giving information about the noun ‘house’.

Examples:

  • I wish I had someone to stand by me.
  • This is the best way to learn English.
  • I need a book to read in my free time.

Adjective clauses

An adjective clause is a dependent clause that sits next to a noun/pronoun and gives information about it.

I love the book that my father gifted me on my last birthday.

Noun phrase = the book that my father gifted me on my last birthday
Noun = book
Premodifier = the
Postmodifier = that my father gifted me on my last birthday (adjective clause)

‘That my father gifted me on my last birthday‘ is the adjective clause that’s sitting next to the noun book and modifying it. An adjective clause is also called a relative clause as it starts with a relative pronoun.

Examples:

  • I don’t know anyone who can teach you boxing.
  • People who can control their minds live a highly successful life.
  • We are looking for a place where we party peacefully.

Appositives

An appositive is a noun or a noun phrase that comes after a noun and renames it.

Her roommate Sofia Charles does not talk to people politely.

Noun phrase = her roommate Sofia Charles
Noun = roommate
Postmodifier = Sofia Charles

‘Sofia Charles’ is the postmodifier (a noun) that’s coming next to the noun ‘roommate’ and renaming it.

Examples:

  • My friends Mangesh and Archit help me with everything I do.
  • My history teacher Jon Morley is getting married next week.

There are two types of appositives in English:

  1. Essential Appositives
  2. Nonessential Appositives

Note that only essential appositives function as postmodifiers; nonessential appositives are offset using commas as they give extra information about the noun they come after.

Essential appositive: My history teacher Jon Morley is getting married next week.
Nonessential appositive: Jon Morley, my history teacher, is getting married next week.

Noun phrases using Premodifiers and Postmodifiers

Premodifiers and postmodifies are a part of a noun phrase; a noun phrase is formed using them.

1. Noun phrases using premodifiers

  • Give me some fresh mangoes

Noun phrase = some fresh mangoes
Premodifiers = some, fresh

  • Go and bring those five muscular boys.

Noun phrase = those five muscular boys
Premodifiers = those, five, muscular

2. Noun phrases using postmodifiers

  • People protesting outside the house are not from this area.

Noun phrase = people protesting outside the house
Postmodifier = protesting outside the house (present participle phrase)

  • I love men in uniform.

Noun phase = men in uniform
Postmodifier = in uniform (prepositional phrase)

3. Noun phrases using both premodifiers and postmodifiers

  • The Chinese cupset that you gifted me last week has been broken.

Noun phrase = the Chinese cupset that you gifted me last week
Premodifier = the, Chinese
Postmodifier = that you gifted me last week

  • Look at those black dogs across the bridge.

Noun phrase = those black dogs across the bridge
Premodifier = those, black
Postmodifier = across the bridge

Premodifiers and postmodifiers in English

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