Nouns and Nominal Groups
A noun is a word that refers to a person, a place or a thing. Examples of nouns include “Smith”, “Oxford”, “letter”, “laughter” & “beauty”. They are defined partly by their form and partly by their position or function. There are several word endings that indicate that a word is a noun. Typical examples are “-ity”, “-ment”, “-ness”, “-tion”, & “-hood”. They usually change their form (inflect) for plural:- “-s”, “-es”.
With regard to their position, nouns frequently follow determiners “a”, “the”, “this”, “that” and their main function is Head of a nominal group. Nouns are often classified into common nouns, proper nouns and pronouns.
Written academic language uses nouns to a much greater extent than other word classes (Biber, 2006, p. 48).
It would therefore seem sensible for EAP learners to concentrate on nouns and building nominal groups rather than verbs.
A nominal group - or noun-based phrase - is typically a group with a noun as its Head. That noun is likely to be modified either before the noun (premodification) or after the noun (post-modification or qualification) or both.
Nominal groups typically function as subject or object in a clause but can also function as complements of prepositions in a prepositional phrase or as modifiers.
A typical structure is “DMHQ” – determiner, modifier, head & qualifier. Written academic language uses nouns and nominal groups to a much greater extent than other word classes (Biber, 2006, p. 48, 137). It would therefore seem sensible for learners of EAP to concentrate on nouns and building nominal groups rather than verbs and verbal groups. Nominal groups include nominalization.
A typical structure of a nominal group is “DMHQ” – determiner, modifier, head & qualifier. An article is one important type of determiner.
Nominalization is the process of forming a noun from some other word class. e.g. red + ness = redness. EAP uses a large number of nominalizations.
In English nouns and verbs can be described as singular or plural, depending on the number of things being referred to. For example “report” is singular, “reports” is plural. Plural nouns are common in academic writing (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, 1999, p. 291-292).
A nominal group consists of a head word which may be modified either before the head word (premodification) or after the head word (post-modification or qualification) or both.
Typical postmodifiers are:
- relative clause – students who have no previous experience
- to-clauses – the solution to the problem of inflation, the question to be debated
- ing-clauses – a brake consisting of a drum divided into twelve compartments
- ed-clauses – canoes preserved by a hard plaster, a brake consisting of a drum divided into twelve compartments, the curve shown
- prepositional phrase – we need to bring to the box a special tool with a ready-compressed spring
- adverbial group – the road back, the people outside
- adjectival group – varieties common in India, the festival proper, something different
According to Biber, Johansonn, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999, p. 606), nominal groups with post-modifiers are common in written texts. The most common post-modifiers in academic texts are prepositional phrases, followed by relative clauses.
Post-modifiers can be either restrictive or non-restrictive. Overall, restrictive postmodifiers are more common (85%) in academic texts.
Typical pre-modifiers are:
- adjective – the constitutional aspects
- ed-participle – a balanced budget, from the confused events of 19-24 August, the emitted light
- ing-participle – growing problem, one striking feature of the years 1929-31, existing structures
- noun – market forces, cabinet appointments
According to Biber, Johansonn, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999, p. 589), nominal groups with pre-modifiers are three to four times more common in written texts than in conversation. Adjectives and nouns are the most common pre-modifiers in academic texts.
Adjectives & Adjectival Groups
Adjectives and adjectival groups are commonly used in academic texts as pre- or post-modifiers in nominal groups. (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, 1999, p. 506).
- pre-modification – the constitutional aspects
- post-modification – varieties common in India, the festival proper, something different
Prepositions are words such as: "up", "on", "in", or "over". A prepositional phrase is a preposition followed by a nominal group - "in the laboratory".
A prepositional phrase is a typical postmodifier.