Up to this point, we have focused on the parts that form the kernal of the clause: the simple subject, the verb, and the completing elements such as complements and objects. These parts can be visualized in another, structural way: They form the skeleton of the clause.

Now we’re going to turn our attention to the parts that modify, or describe, the kernel. These words can be thought of as decorations, because they elaborate on the essential parts of the clause. They add flesh to the skeleton. Sometimes, however, these modifiers are themselves part of the kernel, namely, when they serve as completing elements after verbs.

We’ll discuss four types of modifers: adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, and appositives.


Adjectives, as you know, are words used to describe nouns and pronouns. In English, adjectives usually precede the words they describe. Here are some examples:

(a) This is an aggressive team.

(b) She has a terrific attitude.

(c) It is a beautiful sculpture.

But, as you know, adjectives also can follow the words they describe if they are used as complements. For example:

(d) This team is aggressive.

(e) Her attitude is terrific.

(f) The sculpture is beautiful.

Exercise 1.6

Circle the objectives in the sentences below.

1. She sat on the polished oak desk.

2. The biggest problem seemed small.

3. He feared a negative reaction to his best work.

4. I heard a deep, raspy voice.

5. The persistent inflation called for drastic measures.

6. Our supporting evidence was historical.

7. We fished in the crystal waters and hoped for big pike.

8. The tallest man in the group served old-fashioned blackberry pie to the ladies.

9. The final assignment was difficult and challenging.

10. I was struck by the dramatic contrast between her sunburnt arms and pale white face.

You might have noticed how certain words can be adjectives in one context and nouns in another. For example, in Exercise 1.6 the word blackberry is an adjective because it describes the pie. But what is the same word in this sentence: “I found only one moldy blackberry in the box”? That’s right—it’s a noun; here, we’re talking about an actual blackberry, not something that is described as blackberry in flavor or type.