An ELT Glossary : Premodification / Postmodification

Modifiers are words or phrases that in some way influence the meaning of another word or phrase. They may come before the word - in which case the are known as pre-modifiers - or after it - when they are called post-modifiers.

Look at the underlined pre-modifiers in the following sentences :

  • She's got a new car.  Here the noun car is pre-modified by two elements in the noun phrase - the indefinite article a acting as a determiner, and the adjective new.
  • It was extremely interesting. Here the adverb extremely, acting as intensifier, pre-modifies the adjective interesting.
  • I'm completely against the idea. Again an adverb, completely, acts as intensifier to pre-modify a prepositional phrase - against the idea.
  • I went into the children's room. The article the  and  genitive noun children's premodify the noun room.
  • He's got a lot of friends. The quantifier a lot of pre-modifies the noun friends.
  • Give me those two books. The demonstrative determiner those and the cardinal number two pre-modify the noun accidents.
  • It was his first attempt. The possessive determiner his and the ordinal number first premodify the noun attempt

Premodifiers may therefore be determiners, quantifiers, cardinal or ordinal numbers, adjectives or adverbs. In a noun phrase several of these may be used together, creating a heavily pre-modified noun phrase. For example :

The first two equestrian Olympic gold medals have been won by...

As Brown and Yule point out, heavy pre-modification like this is more common in the written than in the spoken language, where information is "chunked" to make real-time production by the speaker and processing by the listener easier.

Post-modification can occur using grammatical forms such as the following:

  • Adjectives Something strange happened  - where strange post-modifies the indefinite noun something. Indefinite nouns can only be post-modified and never pre-modified; 
  • Adverbs : It wasn't cold enough; She smiled happily; The meeting yesterday was a success - where enough, happily and yesterday postmodify the adjective cold, the verb smiled and the noun meeting respectively.
  • Relative clauses : The woman who interviewed me reminded me of you
  • Non-finite verbs : The woman interviewing reminded me of you; The person to ask is David; The people hurt were all taken to hospital
  • Prepositional phrases : The man in the corner hasn't spoken to anyone; The restaurant near the office...; Some friends of my sister...
  • That clauses :  I thought that he'd never go