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Chapter 9: The Structure of the NP, AdjP, AdvP, and PP

1 The Structure and Function of AdjP, AdvP, and PP


The Structure of and Functions inside the NP


Arguments for distinguishing complements from modifiers (OPTIONAL)

3.1 Complement and modifier follow the head N

3.2 Complement and modifier precede the head N




Special Topic: Agreement

Further Reading



Up to now, we have mainly seen phrases function at sentence level (as subjects, direct objects, subject predicates, adverbials, etc.). In this chapter, some examples are given in which phrases function inside other phrases, as modifiers to the heads of these phrases.

            Grammatical categories such as the determiner also function inside phrases, whereas auxiliaries function in the Verb Group, see chapter 6, and complementizers link one sentence to another. The grammatical categories only function inside other phrases: they never function as subjects or objects, i.e. at sentence level.

            Some of the structure of the NP, AdjP, AdvP, and PP has already been provided in chapter 3. The present chapter elaborates on the functions of the different parts of these phrases. The functions are: determiner, modifier, head, and complement. The main difference between functions inside a VP (see chapters 4 and 5) and those inside an NP, PP, AdvP, and AdjP is that the direct and indirect object, subject and object predicate in the VP correspond to the complement in the other phrases. The adverbial in the VP corresponds to the modifier in the other phrases. Thus, in the NP, PP, AdjP, and AdvP, the functions are not as diverse as in the VP, and of two kinds only, namely complement and modifier. Another point to notice is that complements to AdjPs and NPs are optional, whereas they aren't in the case of VPs.


1    The Structure and Function of AdjP, AdvP, and PP

Instances of complex Adjective Phrases are: blatantly illegal in (1), perfectly safe, very nice, really interesting, too good.

1.         Dumping garbage on the street is [blatantly illegal].

They are called AdjPs because their heads are adjectives, i.e. illegal in (1). A structure for an AdjP would be as in (3), where illegal is the head and the adverb blatantly modifies it. The adverb expresses the manner of the illegality and is comparable to an adverbial in the VP, as in (2). Traditionally, the adverbial inside an AdjP as in (1) or inside an NP is called modifier, rather than adverbial inside the VP, as in (2):

2.         He blatantly defied the authorities.



The AdvP in (3) could be expanded, as in very blatantly illegal:



In (4), the AdvP has a head (blatantly) and a modifier (very). Since the modifier cannot be further expanded, its label is Adv. As mentioned in chapter 2, some linguists argue that adverbs such as very form a class of their own. I will continue to call them adverbs; just keep in mind that they are of a particular kind.

            So far, the AdjP and AdvP have contained heads and modifiers. However, as in the case of VPs (and NPs, see the next section), there can be a complement to the adjective as well (not to the adverb though). For instance, in (5), of his catch does not describe the manner or the place of being proud but what someone is proud of, i.e. of his catch is the complement of proud (inside the VP we'd call it a direct object). The same is true of that waste in (6):

5.         He was blatantly proud of his catch.

6.         There is something that is very illegal about that waste.

A tree for the AdjP in (6) is as in (7):


As in the case of VPs where objects are sisters to V, the complement about that waste is sister to the Adjective. In (7), I have left an (intermediate) label out. In keeping with what is said about this in chapter 3 with respect to the NP and in chapter 5 with respect to the VP, I'll leave it up to you if you want to not label it or name it Adj' (pronounced `Adj-bar'). Some other examples of adjectives that have complements are: able, afraid, aware, conscious, fond, glad, happy, mad, proud, reasonable, and successful.

            AdjPs typically only have modifiers preceding the head (except for a few, e.g. enough), unlike NPs as will be shown in the next section. Their complements do follow the head though and are generally optional. Thus, (5) is the maximal structure of the AdjP, with the functions listed in (8):

8.         Modifier           Head                Complement

            AdvP               Adj                  PP

            blatantly            proud               of his catch

As we'll see in the next chapter, the complement can also be a full sentence or clause.

            Adverbs have no complements, as shown by the ungrammatical (9), and their maximal structure is one with a modifier that precedes the head, e.g. very in very illegally:

9.         *He dumped waste illegally about it.

The adverbs that modify adverbs are few in number. Some examples are: very, so, too, extremely, really (or real, see special topic to chapter 2), and quite.

            The structure of the PP is relatively straightforward, with a head and an NP complement, as in (7) above. The preposition is the head of the PP and an NP always functions as complement. There are a limited number of modifiers to PPs, e.g. right and straight, as in he went right to school.


Beginning of chapter

2.   The Structure of the NP and Functions inside it

Typical instances of NPs would be (10a) and (10b):



The functions of the different elements inside an NP are: determiner, modifier, complement, and head. In (10a), the AdjP blue modifies the head (it describes a quality) and the determiner that points to a particular manatee. There is no complement. Because blue precedes the head, it is sometimes called the premodifier. From Florida in (10b) modifies the head (tells you where from), but follows the head and is therefore sometimes called the postmodifier.

            An NP in English can also contain what is called a complement to the noun. Unlike objects in the VP, complements to N and Adj are optional. For instance, in (11) to (14), a number of NPs is listed, with the complement in brackets. Sentence (12) skips ahead to the next chapter since the complement is a finite clause:

11.       The teacher [of Martian]

12.       The story [that Arafat met Clinton was reported widely]

13.       The student [of chemistry]

14.       The discussion [about welfare]

Because both complements and modifiers are optional, it is sometimes hard to distinguish. One way that may help is that if you make the nouns in (11) to (14) into verbs (hard to do with (12)), the complements direct objects:

15.       You teach Martian.

16.       He narrated that Arafat had met Clinton.

17.       She studied chemistry.

18.       They discussed welfare.

            As in the case of objects inside the VP (chapter 4), AdjP and PP (previous section), complements to the N can be represented in the tree as sisters to the head, in this case N, as in (19) and (20):




          So far, we have seen that the elements of an NP in English function as determiner, head, modifier, and complement. This is summarized in (21) (the `^' indicates that there can be more than one). The name (i.e. label or realization) of each of these functions is listed underneath:

21.       determiner        modifier^          head                 complement      modifier^

            D                     AdjP^              N                     PP                    PP^

            the                    nice                  student of chemistry      from Macedonia

In tree form, (21) looks like (22), with the modifier expanded:



            As you may remember from chapter 2, one additional element that may be added as a function inside the NP is the pre-determiner. In (23), three quantifiers that function in this way are given. In a tree, they would precede the D, but since it is of minor importance, I won't go into this here:

23.       All the nice books; half the people; both my pictures.

The determiner is special in that it is both a category name, which includes articles, quantifiers, demonstratives, possessives, etc. (see chapter 2), as well as a function name.

Beginning of chapter

3.     Arguments for distinguishing complements from modifiers (OPTIONAL)

As I mentioned in section 2, inside the NP, some elements are more closely related to the head N than others. Many grammarians refer to these as complements and modifiers respectively. They can be compared to the objects (even though the latter are more obligatory) and the adverbials in the VP. In this section, I provide some arguments for distinguishing complement from modifier with trees that show the distinction. In general, grammarians do not distinguish these two carefully in the NP.

3.1     Complement and modifier follow the head N

In the tree structure, one can find out the difference between the complement and the modifier by looking at which element is sister to which one. For instance, in (24) of physics is sister to N and is therefore the complement, whereas from England is not a sister to N and is therefore the modifier. There can only be one complement but many modifiers and the order between complement and modifier cannot be reversed as (25) shows. This is the first argument you can use to distinguish between complements and modifiers. In chapter 3 and this chapter, I have not used labels to indicate the intermediate nodes, e.g. the mother of N and PP in (19) above is unlabelled. In some literature, the label is N' and in some, it is NOM. Below, I use N', so that you can become used to it, but it really does not matter which you use:



25.       *A teacher from England of physics.

            Apart from word order, there is a second way to distinguish complements from modifiers and it involves determining what pronoun one can use to pronominalize certain parts of the NP. In (24), teacher of physics and teacher of physics from England are N's. There is an argument that the status of N' is different from that of N and NP. It can be shown that the N' can be replaced by one, but that the N cannot be replaced by one. In (26), one replaces teacher of physics, i.e. an N', and the sentence is grammatical; in (27), one replaces teacher, i.e. an N, and this results in an ungrammatical sentence:

26.       I know the teacher of physics from England and the one from France.

27.       *I know the teacher of physics from England and the one of chemistry.

            Hence, the first piece of evidence for distinguishing complement and modifier is that the complement is closer to the head, as in (24). Secondly, there is also evidence for the special status of the intermediate category N' in that it can be replaced by one.

            A third test for distinguishing complements from modifiers is coordination. It is possible to coordinate two complements, as in (28), or two modifiers, as in (29), but not a complement and a modifier, as in (30):

28.       The teachers of physics and of chemistry.

29.       The teachers from Turkey and from Spain.

30.       *The teachers from Turkey and of physics.


3.2     Complement and modifier precede the head N

Complements and modifiers can also precede the N, as in (31). Again the complement is closer to the head than the modifier. Their order cannot be reversed, as (32) shows, and there can only be one complement but many modifiers, as in (33):


32.       *A physics English teacher.

33.       A nice, patient, English chemistry teacher.

            I have shown that there is evidence that complements and modifiers are distinguished in an NP: their order, coordination, and pronominalization differ.



Beginning of chapter

4.     Conclusion

In this chapter, I have discussed the different functions of elements in the AdjP, AdvP, PP, and NP. These functions are similar to the ones in the VP, discussed in chapters 4 and 5, with the exception of the names given and their optionality. Thus, the adverbial of the VP is called modifier in the AdjP, AdvP and NP, and the different kinds of objects in the VP are not differentiated and just called complements in the AdjP, PP, and NP. The NP may also contain a determiner where the VP has a subject. The complements in the NP and AdjP are usually optional, whereas objects and predicates in the VP are obligatory. Key terms in sections 1 and 2 are determiner, modifier, head, complement; in section 3, they are complement as opposed to modifier; word order; pronominalization; and coordination.



A.        Provide a tree structure for the following sentences:

34.       This environmentally safe fridge is banned in Montana.

35.       A very curious, red book with ink stains was found.

36.       I have a pile of books on my desk.

37.       I love the skies in Kansas during the autumn.

38.       The lovely pig from Wyoming told the bureaucrat in Washington the story of his life.

B.         Provide a tree structure for the following NPs (use NP, AdjP, D, etc.). Also list the functions of the different elements. (Names such as Steve Martin can be treated as an NP that is not further divided).

39.       their irrational response

40.       the reaction to the environmental study of this area

41.       a hilarious look at two geniuses

42.       four fluffy feathers on a Fiffer-feffer-feff (from Dr. Seuss's ABC)

C.        Compare the NP in (43) with the S in (44). What are the similiarities/differences?

43.       Stella's destruction of that awful set of dishes.

44.       Stella destroyed that awful set of dishes.

Exercises for section 3 (OPTIONAL)

D.        Try to draw trees for (45) and (46). Which PPs and NPs are complements? Provide reasons for your answer:

45.       Canadian students of English

46.       a French Old English student.

Keys to the Exercises



Special Topic: Agreement

Rule: "The subject of a sentence agrees in person and number with the finite verb".

In Modern English, there is little agreement left on the verb. In standard English, apart from the verb to be (I am, you are, s/he is, we are, you are, and they are etc.), there is only a third person singular -s ending on verbs in the present tense (e.g. I walk, you walk, s/he walks, we walk, you walk, and they walk). In Old English, the endings were a lot more varied. Note that in some varieties of English, words such as police and government are singular, whereas in others, they are plural. In general, as long as you are consistent, either should be ok.

            The difficulties usually occur with long subjects, as in (47), or with dummy subjects, as in (48). How would you change these?

47.       One of the problems that they worried about continuously were solved rather quickly.

48.       There's some problems in syntax that they could not solve.

            In earlier varieties of English, e.g. Shakespeare's English, there is much more agreement. For instance, in (49), the verb agrees with the second person singular thou. In some varieties of English, no agreement is left, as in (50), and in some, both singular and plural are possible, as in (51), from Hiberno-English:

49.       Shakespeare, Julius Ceasar, I, ii, 18

            Caes. What sayst thou to me now? Speak once againe.

            Sooth. Beware the Ides of March.

50.       The dog stay outside in the afternoon.

51.       The boys is/are leaving.

            (from Henry 1995)

Further Reading

For more on the structure of the NP, see Burton-Roberts (1977; chap 7), but note that NOM is used for N'. For more on the distinction between complements and modifiers, see Hornstein & Lightfoot (1981: Introduction) and Radford (1988: chap 3). Information on Old English agreement can be found in Quirk & Wrenn (1957), and on `mistakes' with agreement, see van Gelderen (1997a).

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