In this sentence

"These tiny flowers transform into pulp-filled pods almost the size of rugby balls."

there are 2 noun phrases pulp-filled pods and almost the size of rugby balls connected without a preposition.

Please explain to me this one.

  • 1
    A prep is not needed. The NP "almost the size of rugby balls" modifies "pods". Thus "pulp-filled pods almost the size of rugby balls" is the matrix NP. – BillJ Nov 4 '19 at 9:02
  • 1
    This is idiomatic English. The writer has left out words which are understood by any native speaker "These tiny flowers transform into pulp-filled pods which are almost the size of rugby balls." – Peter Jennings Nov 4 '19 at 11:22

I think the simple answer is ellipsis.

These tiny flowers transform into pulp-filled pods (that are) almost the size of rugby balls.

These are not two noun phrases; they are two clauses joined by an elided conjunction and verb. I'll explain below but first let's talk about noun phrases because I think you might be missing something.

Nouns can be used to describe other nouns, and when they are used this way, the combinations are called compound nouns.

It's a bit of a short cut that has evolved in the way people have spoken English over the centuries.

So, we might describe a window as the window of the room of the bed but it is so much easier to simply say the bedroom window. Some of these short cuts are so common that they've become words in themselves, like bedroom, streetlamp, and campground; there are many others.

The only true compound noun in your examples is rugby balls, where the noun rugby is describing the noun ball.

Pulp-filled pods is not a compound noun. It's a noun modified by an adjective.

Although pulp is a noun, pulp-filled is an adjective phrase, where the past participle adjective filled is joined to the noun pulp to make an adjective. You can call this a compound adjective, and they're practically always hyphenated.

Your phrase, almost the size of rugby balls is not a noun phrase and it is not a compound noun, but it does contain one (rugby balls). It is a grammatically complex phrase that has to do with the use of almost, which is an adverb, which as you know, modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. Here, it seems to function as a preposition relating pods to the size, and indeed, true prepositions like about or around would produce the same meaning.

So, back to your question - pulp-filled pods is connected to the noun phrase the size with the adverb almost. If almost is an adverb, which is most definitely is (I checked several dictionaries and it is only listed as an adverb) then it must be modifying a verb, or an adjective or another adverb, but its relation is with the noun phrase the size. Adverbs don't modify nouns. It appears to be functioning as a preposition, and indeed about or around, which are true prepositions, would produce equivalent meaning.

And even though a preposition could be used, and almost seems to be doing that job, almost is always an adverb, and adverbs can't be prepositions. It is an elliptic (ellipsis) relative (that) clause describing the pods.

These tiny flowers transform into pulp-filled pods (that are) almost the size of rugby balls.

That solves the problem of almost being a adverb. The elided conjunction/verb is that are and almost is modifying the verb be, which isn't there but then again it is, and that is the magic of the demon ellipsis. Pretty sure that's the answer but let's see what others have to say.

Hope that helps.

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  • Thanks for your reply. I think the word "almost" in the sentence modified the following noun phrase as being explained in the following post ell.stackexchange.com/questions/76622/…. And "pulp-filled pods" and "almost the size of rugby balls" can be called noun phases according to this post learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/… – Hoàng Trần Huy Nov 5 '19 at 2:16
  • So, I think what we have to understand is that nor 'rule'or term is absolute. There are very common patterns in any language, that once observed become 'rules' according to prescriptive grammars. But the failing is that people do whatever they want with language and new patterns emerge all the time. Trying to explain these odd patterns in terms the term established for common patterns is always going to cause disagreement. So it is with almost. The important thing is to recognize the emergent patterns and the meaning they produce. If they are common, there is agreement on the meaning and use. – Ubu English Nov 5 '19 at 14:19
  • If they are uncommon, they make no sense. When learning, we focus on the most common patterns first, which makes sense because the emergent patterns emerge out of the common ones. So, almost can modify nouns, sometimes, and how we analyse that is besides the point. There are several ways to explain how almost is used and I covered some of the in my answer. I'm happy with calling it an adverb that can sometime function as an adjective, or with using the concept of ellipsis. Both make sense, but common agreement on meaning is what matters most. – Ubu English Nov 5 '19 at 14:28
  • So, by my lights, almost is a word, just a word. It isn't and adverb or an adjective until it is used in a word phrase. I'm much more comfortable including the adjective or preposition function in the definition or scope of almost, than I am in reclassifying adverbs, as capable of modifying nouns. To do that makes no sense - it would mean that adverbs are adjectives, which makes the distinction of parts of speech useless. – Ubu English Nov 5 '19 at 14:33
  • -1 for posting a completely wrong answer. Almost the size of rugby balls is a noun phrase, what else could it be? – BillJ Nov 6 '19 at 7:50

It's a distinct construction in English. The second noun phrase serves as an adjective modifying the first one. If you want a term for it, the second noun phrase is an "adjective equivalent".

This construction is customary only for a few kinds of attribute: mostly size, color, and price—and not with very consistent syntax. I think you'll find that most usages of this construction are pretty closely analogous to these examples:

The weather forecast says we're in for hail the size of golf balls. (A common expression.)

Midway into my journey, clouds the color of steel wool began to gather and the atmosphere seemed charged with a deep and unexplained foreboding. (Source.)

This flagpole is not the right height.

A 5-lb. bag of potatoes is $3.59. (This is a common way to state the price of something. But "I bought a bag of potatoes $3.59" is not grammatical.)

Herman Miller is coming out with an office chair half that price next May.

§80 of this book from 1911 by the most celebrated editor of the Oxford English Dictionary says that this construction is a "quite modern development".

It's not ellipsis of a linking verb, because that still has the same peculiarity: "hail that is the size of golf balls" still equates hail with a size, which does not follow the usual pattern for nouns and modifiers.

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These tiny flowers transform into [ pulp-filled pods almost the size of rugby balls ].

A preposition is not required. "Almost the size of rugby balls" is a noun phrase functioning as modifier in the larger bracketed noun phrase.

"Almost" is an adverb modifying the noun phrase "the size of rugby balls". Adverbs freely modify noun phrases (though only very rarely nouns), as in your example and others like He ate almost the whole pie; They chose almost the same colour.

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