Modifying Nouns – Are you doing it correctly?

Hello this is Simon,
Today, I’m going to talk modifying nouns. It sounds boring, but it is something that a lot of students have trouble with. Below is a short piece with examples of common mistakes I often encounter.

How many can you spot?

“This morning, I took an interview test of Eiken. Even though I have experience, more than five years, I was still nervous, so last night I prayed at a temple which is local. It was a 50 minutes train ride to the test center, so I did practice for listening on the train. The test was held in a 200 years old university’s building. My interviewer was an American young tall man. He was a person who was very kind and helpful. The first question was about a picture of a Japanese ancient wooden carving…”

The mistakes in this makes it difficult to read. It doesn’t flow very well. However it can be easily fixed by looking at these three important points:

1. The Main Noun                                                    “an interview test of Eiken”

The most common mistake is to put the modifying words after the main noun. The above example describes a kind of test, so test is the main noun. It should go at the end of the sequence:

                  “an interview test of Eiken”                                 >>                         “an Eiken interview test
                  experience, more than five years”                  >>                         “more than five years experience” **
                  “a temple which is local”                                       >>                         “a local temple
                  practice for listening”                                           >>                         “listening practice

                  “a person who was very kind and helpful”     >>                         “a very kind and helpful person

Notice how the expressions usually become shorter. You can eliminate unnecessary prepositions and relative pronouns. Above all, the word order is more natural, making it easier to read.

2. Modifiers (Nouns and Numbers)                         “a 50 minutes train ride”

When modifying words with nouns or numbers, there are few basic rules:
  • Plural modifiers should be in singular form.
  • Multiple noun (or number) modifiers should be joined with a hyphen.
  • Possessive “s” shouldn’t be used.
                  “a 50 minutes train ride”                                    >>                         “a 50-minute train ride”

                  “a 200 years old university’s building”         >>                         “a 200-year-old university building

**  (In the expression “more than five years experience” the plural “s” is used because it is short for “five years of experience” as opposed to “a five-year experience”)

 

3. Modifiers (Adjectives)                                             “an American young man”

Multiple adjectives should be written in a specific order. Below is a table which illustrates this order. It is a rough guide, and of course there are exceptions, but it helps to give an idea. The order goes from left to right:

                  “an American young tall man”                          >>                         “a tall young American man”
                  “a Japanese ancient wooden carving”           >>                         “an ancient Japanese wooden carving”

 

Opinion
Size
Age
Color
Nationality
Material
nice
little
new
blue
American
wooden
interesting
big
old
pink
Japanese
steel
delicious
tiny
young
black
Canadian
brick
expensive
enormous
ancient
white
German
stone
cute
wide
fresh
green
French
brass

 

Now that you know these basic rules, lets put them all together and look that piece again:

“This morning, I took an Eiken interview test. Even though I have more than five years experience, I was still nervous, so last night I prayed at a local temple. It was a 50-minute train ride to the test center, so I did listening practice on the train. The test was held in a 200-year-old university building. My interviewer was a tall young American man. He was a very kind and helpful person. The first question was about a picture of an ancient Japanese wooden carving…”

 

It’s a lot easier to read now, isn’t it.
Now, I hope you can put some of these rules to use, when you write your next interesting new English composition!

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