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Introduction to Noun Phrase Postmodification

The various types of noun postmodification

Postmodifiers include prepositional phrases, relative clauses, to-clauses, ed-clauses, ing-clauses, and a few others.

  • Prepositional phrase: a lackheadword of sunlightprepositional phrase
  • Relative clause: the chemicalheadword that helps us to sleep wellrelative clause
  • To-clause: an opportunityheadword to go outside at the end of the dayto-clause
  • Ed-clause: researchheadword published in Natureed-clause
  • Ing-clause: rocksheadword containing olivineing-clause
  • Noun phrase in Apposition: The second brightest starhead noun phrase, Betelgeuseappositive noun phrase, is a red supergiant.

Prepositional phrases

Nouns are often post-modified with prepositional phrases. In fact this is the commonest form of noun postmodification.

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition See the glossary definition and a complement. The complement is usually a noun phrase, but it could be other types as we will see later.


  • controlheadword of emotionprepositional phrase
  • actionheadword from governmentsprepositional phrase
  • rocksheadword like basaltprepositional phrase
  • an hourheadword of daylightprepositional phrase
  • an effectheadword on the mindprepositional phrase
  • alterationsheadword in sleep patternsprepositional phrase

All these examples consist of headword, a preposition See the glossary definition , and a noun phrase. In this case all of the noun phrases except the last consist of a single noun. In the last case the noun phrase consists of the noun "patterns" modified by another noun "sleep". Prepositional phrases can be much longer and more complex than this.

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Relative Clauses

Nouns are often post-modified with a relative clause. Sometimes a prepositional phrase can easily be expressed as a relative clause. For example we could change "rocks like basalt" into "rocks which are like basalt".

A relative clause consists of a relativizer which connects the clause to the head noun plus the clause itself. The relativizer points back (anaphorically See the glossary definition ) to the the head noun. This is sometimes called the antecedent See the glossary definition .

Relativizers are relative pronouns (who, which, whose, that, whom) or relative adverbs (when, where, why).

Relative clauses are also divided into two main types (restrictive and non-restrictive). In restrictive clauses the postmodifier is closely identified with the head noun; it has a defining function. In non-restrictive clauses the postmodifier serves to add more information about the head word. Non-restrictive clauses are separated from the head noun by a comma.


  • The sun is a source of vitamin Dhead noun, whichpronoun relativizer has some important functions in the body, such as reducing inflammationnon-restrictive relative clause.
  • As the weather becomes a little warmer, too, this gives us that pleasant feelinghead noun thatpronoun relativizer summer isn’t too far awayrestrictive relative clause.
  • There’s a reasonhead noun whyadverb relativizer pizza is so popularrestrictive relative clause.
  • Humans are drawn to foodshead noun thatpronoun relativizer are fatty and sweet and rich and complexrestrictive relative clause.
  • Studies have actually proven that buseshead noun whichpronoun relativizer run at short intervalsrestrictive relative clause often cluster in threes.

All these examples consist of headword, and a finite See the glossary definition relative clause containing a relativizer. The first example is a non-restrictive relative clause which gives some extra information about the head noun. All the others are restrictive relative clauses which define or restrict the meaning of the head noun.

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Nouns are sometimes post-modified with a to-clause. These are non-finite clauses See the glossary definition , usually without a subject.

The to-clause gives more information about the headword. Often, the main clause See the glossary definition containing the headword would have little meaning without the to-clause.


  • More light in the evenings also gives many people more of an opportunityhead noun to go outside at the end of the dayto-clause.
  • Sugary drinks and many breakfast cereals are ultra-processed foods, as are more recent innovations, such as so-called “plant-based” burgers, which are typically made of protein isolates and other chemicalshead noun to make the products palatableto-clause.
  • Depending on the chimpanzees’ abilityhead noun to avoid revisiting a box they had already chosento-clause, we increased the difficulty of the task by increasing the number of boxes.
  • In the decade that followed, he developed a series of methods and guidelines head noun to recover and interpret authentic DNA and to minimise the risk of contamination from modern sources, especially from contemporary humansto-clause.

You can see from examples 2 and 4 above that the modification may apply not just to a single noun but also to a noun phrase. In example 2 we have "protein isolates and other chemicals" and in example 4 "methods and guidelines". These are binomial phrases See the glossary definition and they are seen mostly in academic writing, but there are a few in common use, for example "husband and wife", "food and drink".

You can also see from example 4 that there are in fact two to-clauses, 1) "to recover and interpret authentic DNA" and 2) "to minimise the risk of contamination from modern sources ... ". In fact, you could say there are three: "to recover ..", "(to) interpret ..", and "to minimise ..".

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Nouns are sometimes post-modified with ed-clauses. These are non-finite participle See the glossary definition clauses.

The ed-clause gives more information about the headword. Ed-clauses can easily be rewritten as passives (e.g. "research published in Nature" = "research which was published in Nature").


  • Just five to 15 minutes in the sun is enough to reap the benefitshead noun associated with vitamin Ded-clause.
  • Only informationhead noun held in working memoryed-clause can be stored in long-term memory.
  • It is very hard to show whether these changes in education actually cause the differenceshead noun seen in the charted-clause.
  • In fact, a lack of sunlight can lead to a condition head noun called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes called “winter depression”ed-clause.
  • This sequencing was based on a 40,000-year-old fragment of bone head noun discovered in the Denisova cave in Siberiaed-clause.

These phrases are called ed-phrases because they use the past-participle of verbs. But the past-participle of irregular verbs don't end in "ed", as you can see from examples 2 and 3 above.

in all of these examples the ed-clause could be rewritten as a relative clause with a verb in the passive See the glossary definition voice. Ed-clauses have the advantage of being shorter.

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Nouns are sometimes post-modified with ing-clauses. These are also non-finite participle See the glossary definition clauses.

The ing-clause gives more information about the headword. Ing-clauses are less common than ed-clauses and cannot always be rewritten as a relative clause with a verb in the passive See the glossary definition voice.


  • The weathering of igneous rocks, especially rocks like rocks like basalthead noun containing a mineral called olivineing-clause, is very efficient in reducing atmospheric CO₂.
  • The Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for 2022 has been awarded to Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, “for his discoverieshead noun concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”ing-clause.
  • This finding seems to support other evidence head noun suggesting there is a link between sleep duration and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementiaing-clause.
  • The oral disease most frequently associated with medical conditions is chronic periodontal disease, which is the result of inflammation of the tissues head noun surrounding the toothing-clause affecting the gum, the ligaments and the bone.

A few ing-participles occur much more frequently than other, including two in the examples above; containing and concerning. Others are being, involving, using, having, consisting, relating, resulting.

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Appositive Noun Phrases

Nouns are sometimes post-modified with other noun phrases. In academic writing these noun phrases are used provide to extra information, clarification, examples, formulae, and acronymsA short form of a phrase using the first letter of each word in the phrase. See the glossary definition . They may be enclosed by commas but are often enclosed in parentheses See the glossary definition , as in the following examples.


  • These are actually balls of plasmahead noun (very hot gas)appositive noun phrase, consisting of hydrogen and helium.
  • Another is the ecdysozoans, comprising the arthropodshead noun (insects, lobsters, spiders, millipedes)appositive noun phrase, and other moulting animals such as roundworm.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head noun (CDC)appositive noun phrase has called insufficient sleep an epidemic.
  • And it is all controlled by specialised brain circuits and chemical messengers head noun (neurotransmitters)appositive noun phrase.

In the above examples the first is an explanation (of what plasma is), the second is a list of examples of animals in the category of arthropods, the third is an acronym, and the last is a one word noun phrase giving the technical name for "chemical transmitters".

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