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Determiners And Modifiers Of Noun Phrase English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3059 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Language is an essential means of communication and a very precious tool to transfer knowledge. Creativity of language use is one of the main features that distinguish human language from any other communication systems used by other creatures. Language structure is definitely sophisticated and this paper would explore some small specific elements of the noun phrase which is a part of this complicated structure.

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There are some certain types of grammatical units that should be highlighted here before discussing the internal structure of the noun phrase. These units vary in size and they are combined together to construct larger units and form meaningful sentences. These grammatical units are morphemes, words, phrases, clauses and sentences. They can be clarified briefly by looking at the following example:

From the previous example, a phrase can be made up of one or more words and there are different types of phrases. The verb phrase is in which the verb is the head (e.g. must stop) and the adjective phrase is in which the adjective is the head (e.g. a heavy bag). The head is meant to be the main or the principle word in the phrase and each phrase has only one head.

The head of the NP is the noun which may be preceded by a determiner such as the, a, her, etc. and can be accompanied by modifiers, elements which describe or classify whatever the head refers to. [1] The examples below show the head in bold and its determiner in a noun phrase.

The man I saw yesterday.

I like his job. It is easy.

Look to that picture; it is beautiful.

Also, the NP can be followed by complements which used to complete the meaning of the noun such as that-clause and to-clause. (Biber, 2002) For example:

The book that I bought last week is interesting.

You must pass this exam to finish the course.

These determiners, modifiers and complements are called dependents of the NP. This paper will deal with two types of these dependents which are determiners and modifiers and then will attempt to compare them with similar elements in Arabic and to find out the difficulties that may face Arab learners of English.

The determiner is one type of dependents used only in the NP and it is an obligatory element in NPs with some certain types of singular noun as head. [2] Also, determiners are used before the noun but they are not considered as adjectives. The term “determiner” involves words such as the, this, some, either, my, no, one, etc. and here are some examples in which determiners are used:

I love this book.

Would you like some tea?

No one is allowed to smoke here.

Two or more determiners are sometimes combined together to form what is called the determinative phrase (DP). The first component of this phrase functions as a modifier for the main determiner and the order of these determiners cannot be changed (i.e. they have a fixed order). The determiner that precedes the central one is called “predeterminer” and the one that comes after the central determiner is called “postdeterminer”. In the following examples the predeterminer is written in bold while the postdeterminer is underlined:

All the other six teachers are coming to the meeting.

The last two hours of that party were really amazing.

All these cars are mine.

It is important to classify the determiners to find out their functions and uses. They occur in different contexts and they cannot be usually used interchangeably because each determiner implies a particular meaning. In fact, it is not always accessible to put any determiner before any noun (i.e. plural, singular, uncountable nouns require different types of determiners). Therefore, it is necessary to identify the classes of determiners and the table below shows these classes with some examples.

This essay will first look at the articles, the most common type of determiners, to examine their uses and functions in English noun phrases. Then will compare them with the articles used in Arabic to identify the area of difficulty Arab learners may encounter when learning English.

Articles are usually used at the beginning of the noun phrase and they are very short words but with great significance. These articles are the, a and an. Also, zero article is added to the list to indicate that there is no article used in a particular context. These articles are classified in terms of definiteness into two types: the definite article (the) and the indefinite articles (a and an).

“The indefinite articles are used only with singular countable nouns and they narrow down the reference of the head noun to one indefinite member of the class.” (Biber, 2002: p.67) This type of articles could be used to talk about a specific thing or a particular person but it may be unnamed or unknown by both the speaker and the hearer. For example, a student of my class broke the window. It is obvious that this student is from her class but it is not clear which student broke the window and maybe it is not important to know him. Also, the indefinite article (a/an) is used to talk about unspecific things. For example, I am looking for a car. Another use of the indefinite article is to classify or define people or things as in I am a teacher and this is a book. Moreover, a/an is usually used when describing people or things; for example, he is a good boy and she is a beautiful girl.

Zero article and the indefinite article a/an have a similar function. They both indicate indefiniteness. (e.g. she is afraid of rats) However, zero article have some other uses. It is usually used with meals, means of transport and communication, days, months, seasons, proper names and in some other contexts. Here are some examples in which zero article is applied († is used to show the position where the article is omitted)

I love † sport.

I will go back in † March.

I saw jack on † Sunday.

What are we going to for † dinner?

They used to travel by † car.

Where is † Nancy?

On the other hand, the definite article (the) is used with countable and uncountable nouns when the noun is known by the speaker and the hearer. (I bought a bag and a pen case yesterday; the bag is quite big). The listener knows which bag is being talked about; it is definite. Here are two more examples: (the bank is open today) and (I would like to visit the museum). Also, the definite article is used when the noun is clarified by the speaker as in (can you see the boy in that shop?) Furthermore, the definite article is used with the superlatives (e.g. this is the tallest building in the town.)

These are the most common uses of the articles in English. It is obvious that the learner would encounter some difficulty trying to identify the correct use of the definite and indefinite articles. Arabs may transfer the use of articles in L1 to L2 while learning English. There is one definite article in Arabic which is (“al” = the) and its use is quite flexible. Generally, nouns in Arabic, countable and uncountable ones, accept the definite article. For example, the expressions such as (the life, the love, the kindness etc.) are widely used in Arabic unlike English. Such clear difference may result in making some mistakes regarding using the appropriate article.

The second type of determiners is the demonstrative determiners which are this, these, that and those. “They are similar to the definite article the in conveying the definite meaning.” (Biber, 2002: p.73). Demonstrative determiners indicate whether the noun is singular or plural and if the person or the item which is being talked about is near or far. This and that are used with singular while these and those are used with plural. The table below shows the use of these determiners (written in bold) with some examples:

this that

Used with singular nouns

Near / distant

– This car is mine.

– I liked that car we saw in the city.

these those

Used with plural nouns

Near / distant

– Look to these books; they are cheap.

– Did you see those guys down street?

Also, this type of determiners is used indicate time. This and these refer to actions that are in progress or near to begin whereas that and those refer to some events that have just finished or they finished a long time ago.

Listen to this song.

That presentation was really excellent.

Moreover, demonstrative determiners are sometimes used to show one’s attitudes toward something or somebody. This and these can express interest or approval while that and those would show dislike or negative response.

I did not like that teacher.

Tell me about this man you met last night.

Generally, this and these are more common in English. Arabic has more demonstrative determiners and each one of these determiners has a certain use. They cannot be used interchangeably. Similar to English, singular and plural nouns take different determiners. Also, distance is indicated by the use of demonstrative determiners. Arabic speakers use special determiners with feminine and dual nouns. However, Arab learners do not have difficulty in understanding or using this type of determiners in English because these determiners share similar features and uses with the ones in their first language.

The third type of determiners is the possessive determiners such as my, you, his, her, etc. “They specify the noun phrase by relating it to the speaker or other entities.” Possessive determiners come at the beginning of the NP and make it definite. Each one of these determiners is used in different contexts and they correspond to the personal pronouns (e.g. I/my, you/your, he/his, etc.) These determiners can be considered pronouns as well. Here are some examples of using these determiners in English:

My youngest brother is naughty.

I should talk with your father; it is urgent.

Do not speak with her son.

In the first example, the speaker talks about his youngest brother and it is obviously definite and precise. Also, as noted from the examples when the possessive determiner is used, the article is dropped.

In Arabic, the use of possessive determiners is different from English. Such determiners will be attached to the end of the noun (i.e. they are similar to suffixes). For example, the word (ketab = book) changes to (ketabi = my book) after the addition of the possessive determiner. As it is the case in English, these determiners correspond to the personal pronouns as well. Arabic has a dual pronoun, so there is a special possessive determiner for dual nouns. It not noted that Arab learners have difficulty in using English possessive determiners because their rule is clear and not complicated. The learner only needs to know when each determiner is used.

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The fourth type of determiners is quantifiers which are used to “specify nouns in terms of quantity or amount”. (Biber, 2002: p.74) All, both, some, any, neither, either, many, much, every, each, few and little are among the most common quantifiers in English. Each one of them has a special function and use. For example, both many and much mean a large quantity but the former is used with plural countable nouns while the latter is used with uncountable.

Many boys love football.

Not many women like wrestling.

He should pay much attention to his study.

Much money is spent on sport.

Each and every are quite similar in meaning. Each refers to all the members of a group of two or more and every refers to all the members of a group of three or more. They are both usually used with singular nouns.

Every student has to bring his book to class.

I have two children and each one of them has different needs.

Also, all and both are famous examples of English quantifiers. All is used with three or more items while both is used to refer to two people or things.

All the rooms are fully painted.

Both cars were sold, mine and yours.

Another important common quantifier is some. Some refers to an amount or a number of something that is not stated or known. This determiner is used with countable and uncountable nouns.

Would you like some tea?

I have some books about this topic.

Moreover, there are some quantifiers that indicate a small amount or quantity such as a few, a little and several. A few and several are used with countable nouns while a little is used with uncountable nouns. Also, sometimes few and little (without the article a) are used to mean not many.

There were a few cars in the front of the hospital.

Very few students attend the meeting.

The food needs a little salt.

Any, either, no, neither are well-known quantifying determiners as well. Any is used to refer one member or thing of a group, but it is not important which one. Either has a similar meaning but it refers to one between two things and it used only with singular countable nouns. No is used with countable and uncountable nouns and it has a negative meaning. Neither is used to mean ‘not either of two things’.

Hurry up! Take any cup.

We can go either now or after the class.

Sorry, there is no chocolate is left.

I like neither football nor baseball.

These are some famous common examples of quantifiers and their use and function in English. Learners should identify their meanings and practice using them. Arab learners as well would need to spend some time to understand and use these quantifiers correctly because in Arabic many quantifiers are usually used with all nouns, countable and uncountable. The use of these quantifiers in Arabic is quite flexible and easier. For example, kul (all), ay (any), bath (some) and la (no) are used widely by native speakers in various many contexts. However, it is noted that those learners have a real problem regarding this point because in many cases the use of these quantifiers in English is clearly stated.

The second element of the NP that will be dealt with in this paper is the modifiers. Generally, there are two main types of modifiers. If the modifier occurs before that head, it is called pre-modifier and if it comes after the head, it is called post-modifier. Modifiers can be used with determiners to construct one complex noun phrase as the following example:


fast smart


that my dead father …





Obviously, the NP can get more complex while putting more modifiers and determiners. Pre-modifiers may take different forms; it can be adjectives, participles and nouns. Here are some examples to make the point clear:

A beautiful girl (the head is preceded by an adjective)

A big house

Written excuse (the head is preceded by a participle)

Shared videos

The university day (the head is preceded by a noun)

The World Cup

In fact, adjectives are the most common type of pre-modifiers. In addition, this type of modifiers can be multiple. (i.e. using more than one or two words as pre-modifiers) as in the following example:

Two main clear convincing reasons

In the previous example, the pre-modifiers are organized in a particular way and maybe it is not always acceptable to put them in any order. Some words can function as a very productive pre-modifier sine they can precede the head nouns in various contexts or phrases. (Biber, 2001) For example, the word family occurs frequently with many head nouns (family affair, family car, family size, family friend, etc.)

Post-modifiers can take the form of relative clauses, to-clauses, ing-clauses. For example:

the hotel where we stayed last holiday

the student who threw the ball back over the fence

enough information to find your way out

the man standing under the tree

Post-modifier can be a phrase and it is called in this case phrasal modifier which take the form of prepositional phrase and appositive noun phrase. (Biber, 2001). Here are two examples of phrasal modifiers:

The scene at the beginning of the film

The American writer, Mark Twine

As most learners of English, Arab students would start forming simple noun phrase maybe without using any modifier in early stages. Arab learners would be able to use more complex structures moving from one level to another. Adjectives are the usually among the first acquired modifiers because they are used widely in Arabic. Arabic native speakers would like to use more than one or two adjective to describe one person or thing although that these adjective they use are usually have very similar meanings. For example, (the sad depressing miserable inhumane condition) is a familiar usual expression in Arabic. People may people use such big number of adjectives (also verbs and nouns) to emphasize their ideas. Therefore, Arab learners are usually fond of using pre-modifiers attempting to produce percussive and effective language as they do in their mother tongue. Also, Arab learners may face difficulty when using complex noun phrases. They may order the determiners and pre-modifiers incorrectly because of L1 interference.

In conclusion, language is a complex system that includes different grammatical units which work all together to form a very sophisticated and advanced communication method. The noun phrase is one of the most important and common structures of English sentence. Determiners, modifiers and complements are crucial elements of this type of phrases and very element has its own rules which need to be studied and examined carefully by language learners.

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