In this sentence, does big modify basketball player or just player?

He is a big basketball player.

  • Why does it matter? – TrevorD Apr 13 '17 at 23:48
  • 4
    Unless he plays with big basketballs, it modifies player. In the phrase, a big white dog, the word big would tell you nothing about the colour of the dog, only its size. – Ronald Sole Apr 13 '17 at 23:59
  • Welcome to EL&U. Context is essential to any understanding of meaning. It is quite impossible to answer your question without it. For example, I might use the phrase big basketball, for example, to refer to a highly flamboyant or kinetic style of play, or elsewhere to large-scale, systematized basketball programs as in the NBA or NCAA D-I. – choster Apr 14 '17 at 15:01
  • The salient meaning is that it modifies "basketball player". – BillJ Apr 14 '17 at 15:15

This would depend heavily on the context.

Here it modifies "basketball player":

The girls were in awe. Everybody knew who he was. He was a big basketball player.

And here just "player":

All the players on the team were short except him. He stood out. He was a big basketball player.

  • Wouldn't it just modify player in both situations? If you wanted to make big modify "basketball player" I feel like you would have to hyphenate it like "basketball-player." – Jim Apr 14 '17 at 0:51
  • @Jim: Basketballist. Basketballer. – Ricky Apr 14 '17 at 1:46
  • Big-time basketball player perhaps. – MikeJRamsey56 Apr 14 '17 at 2:01

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