What are the function (or grammar role) of the words here please:

A grammar question
A history teacher

Here, grammar and history are not adjectives but nouns. But I think in grammar they are called by some names and I forgot them.

  • 3
    It's a noun adjunct, functioning as a modifier modifying the head nouns "teacher" and "question".
    – user178049
    Apr 10 '17 at 11:08
  • 3
    Try this and this. Apr 10 '17 at 11:09
  • 1
    @TeacherKSHuang Starting giving answers! Apr 10 '17 at 11:28
  • 1
    @user178049 How can "history" be modifying "teacher"? The noun "history" denotes an academic subject, not a property of "teacher": you can't say *A teacher who is history", or *"My teacher is history". "History" is a complement, not a modifier. It's no different to "French teacher" in the sense of a teacher of French, rather than a teacher who is French.
    – BillJ
    Apr 10 '17 at 12:33

In your examples both words grammar and history are morfologically nouns, but if we were to evaluate the phrases syntactically, both nouns function as attributes.

According to the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, definition #3, an attribute is:

  1. Grammar A word or phrase syntactically subordinate to another word or phrase that it modifies.

This said, an attribute, in other words, a modifier, can be an adjective, a noun, or a phrase that is usually placed before the noun it modifies.

  • But "history" is not modifying "teacher". In the OP's example "history" is a complement not a modifier. It's no different to "French teacher" (in the sense of a teacher of French), rather than a teacher who is French. The former is a complement, the latter a modifier.
    – BillJ
    Apr 10 '17 at 13:33
  • @BillJ, Complements and adjuncts Complements and adjuncts are different. A complement is necessary in order to complete the meaning. An adjunct is not necessary, and adds extra information. Apr 10 '17 at 13:46
  • Adjuncts are verb modifiers; we're talking here about dependents of nouns. Adjuncts, modifiers and complements all add information. Ask yourself this: In "French teacher" (as in teacher of French) would you say that "French" was modifying "teacher"?
    – BillJ
    Apr 10 '17 at 13:53
  • @BillJ, Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying, the pattern noun1 of noun2 means that noun2 modifies, or adds extra information to noun1. Apr 10 '17 at 14:01
  • No, that's not the case here. "French" is an academic subject, not a property of some "teacher". If we're talking about someone who was of the French nationality, as in a "French nanny" then, yes, French" would be an adjective modifying "nanny". There's a big difference here that you really need to grasp.
    – BillJ
    Apr 10 '17 at 14:08

English relies on word order, and doesn't have much in the way of declining or conjugation, and as a result, it's possible to take words that are normally one function and use them as another function, and the position of them in the sentence or the presence/absence of a determiner will allow that to work.

A grammar question

Grammar answers the question "what kind of question?"

Words that answer "what kind?" are almost always modifying nouns, and henceforth fulfilling an adjective function. Are they adjectives? Some words can only be adjectives, some words are more versatile.

It's not a complement because it is not a "parameter" - if something needs a complement, it doesn't change the meaning of the complement.

Take this, for example:

I hit the blue car.

The blue car is a complement to (specifically, an object of) the verb hit. Hit does not modify the blue car because the words "the blue car" have the same meaning whether or not hit is there. However, car and blue car have different meanings, so the blue modifies car.

  • Yes, but in the OP's example, the noun "history" is not modifying "teacher"; it's a complement, as in "French teacher" with the sense of teacher of French", not a French person. We're talking about the academic subject "history" here, not some property of the teacher.
    – BillJ
    Apr 10 '17 at 14:15
  • No, you are not talking about history but a teacher - what kind of teacher - a history teacher. It's possible to "adjective-ify" some words that are normally nouns like this. Also, as I stated in my answer, I don't think it's a complement because when X is complemented by Y, the meaning of Y doesn't change, whereas when X modifies Y, the meaning of Y does change.
    – LawrenceC
    Apr 10 '17 at 14:27
  • That's interesting what you say though - "French teacher" can have two meanings, teacher of French or teacher who is French. Obviously with history we couldn't evaluate that to "teacher who is history" though I'm certain someone's tried to do that in the course of the language somewhere. Maybe you might be on to something. Got any references in CGEL?
    – LawrenceC
    Apr 10 '17 at 14:29
  • In "history teacher", it's "history" that is the complement, not "teacher". We can call it a pre-head (or attributive) complement. As I said, it's the same as "French teacher" (meaning teacher of French"), where "French" is a pre-head complement, not modifier. Have you got a copy of CGEL?
    – BillJ
    Apr 10 '17 at 14:35
  • scribd.com/doc/252377510/…
    – LawrenceC
    Apr 10 '17 at 15:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.