A noun acting as the head of a noun phrase is often accompanied by one or more dependent elements, before and/or after the head.
Pronoun heads are only rarely accompanied by other elements.
Noun heads may have three types of dependent element: determiners, modifiers and complements.
Determiners indicate the type of reference made by the noun phrase (e.g. definite, indefinite, possessive).
Examples of determiners:
- The tall woman. (definite reference)
- My old school. (possessive reference)
- That person. (demonstrative reference)
Modifiers indicate qualities and attributes of the noun head (e.g. subjective qualities, physical attributes such as size, colour, material, location in space and time, restricted reference to a particular entity).
Examples of modifiers:
- Those big boxes in the garage..
- A little red lever which controls the temperature.
Complements complete the meaning of the noun head. For example, nouns such as fact, claim, suggestion, idea, thought, statement are always ‘about something’ and the complement completes the necessary information.
Examples of complements:
- the fact that he was no longer a little boy.
- An American expert’s claim that the monsters were wiped out after a massive meteorite created devastating climatic changes 65 million years ago The body o f a young man.
- The body of a young man.
Pre- and Post-head Dependent Elements
Two types of dependent element may come before the head in the noun phrase (i.e. they act as pre-head elements): determiners and premodifiers.
Two types of dependent element may come after the head in the noun phrase (i.e. they act as post-head elements): postmodifiers and complements.
Complements versus Postmodifiers
Complements and postmodifiers are different in their function. Postmodifiers specify which person or thing or type of person or thing is being referred to.
The major postmodifier is the relative clause. All the other postmodifiers can be paraphrased by a relative clause. For example, ‘the house nearby’ can be paraphrased as ‘the house which is nearby’; ‘the girl in jeans’ can be paraphrased as ‘the girl who is wearing jeans’.
Complements complete the meaning of the noun phrase. In the noun phrase the claim that they have nuclear weapons, the underlined words complete the meaning of claim (a claim must be ‘about something’).
Complement prepositional phrases cannot be paraphrased with relative clauses:
- A rise in interest rates.
- The mother of three little children.