Glossary: Modifier

Sub-topics

Explanation

Modifier is a functional label for an element in a phrase which supports (or 'modifies') the Head word.

One word or phrase modifies another by making its meaning more specific.

Because the two words make a phrase, the ‘modifier’ is normally close to the modified word.

In the phrase primary-school teacher:

  • teacher is modified by primary-school (to mean a specific kind of teacher)
  • school is modified by primary (to mean a specific kind of school).

Other examples of modifiers are happy in the noun phrase a happy bunny, very in the adjective phrase very cheeky and extremely in the adverb phrase extremely quickly.

Building characters

Goals

  • Understand some of the ways that writers use language to create characters
  • Analyse the use of language in a literary text

Lesson Plan

  • You could start by asking students to think about some of the ways that writers use language to create fictional characters. What makes a convincing character? What are some of their favourite characters from fiction, and why?
  • Next, talk students through the first passage from Jekyll & Hyde.

Building characters: Activity

This extract is from later in the novel, where Mr. Hyde attacks a stranger in the street. Read it through, and think:

Adjective phrases

An adjective phrase is a phrase whose Head word is an adjective. As with other phrases adjective phrases can consist of only one word (the Head) or of more than one word.

Note that the National Curriculum stipulates that phrases should have at least two words, though it concedes in the Glossary entry for noun phrases that "Some grammarians recognise one-word phrases."

Here are some examples of adjective phrases in sentences. The phrases are marked in square brackets and the Head is highlighted.

Adjectives

A very simple definition of adjectives that has sometimes been used is that they are ‘descriptive’ words. But this isn’t really very helpful. Lots of word classes can be ‘descriptive’: a noun like funeral is fairly descriptive, as is the verb leap. We might also say that the adverb quickly describes the verb ran in a sentence like He quickly ran.

Adverb phrases

An adverb phrase is a phrase with an adverb as the Head word. The Head adverb can occur alone or with modifiers, i.e. other words which expand the phrase, for example:

Adverbs

Adverbs are words that typically modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb or an entire sentence:

  • ‘I keep hoping they'll come back,’ Tanya said despairingly. [W2F-006 #244]

In this case the adverb modifies the verb said.

  • It’s a very fast road all the way. [S1A-021 #195]

In this case the adverb modifies the adjective fast.

Modifiers in phrases

The term modifier is a function label that is used for words or phrases that modify the Head of a phrase. Put differently: a modifier gives more information about the Head; it makes its meaning more specific.

All phrase types can contain modifiers. Here are some examples:

Noun phrase modifiers:

  • big issues
  • small painting
  • very nice passages

Verb phrase modifiers:

Noun phrases

Noun phrases are phrases which have as their Head word a noun or pronoun.

»

Englicious contains many resources for English language in schools, but the vast majority of them require you to register and log in first. For more information, see What is Englicious?

Englicious (C) Survey of English Usage, UCL, 2012-17 | Supported by the AHRC and EPSRC. | Cookies