Grammar Bites | An Introduction to Modifiers (YouTube Script)
English, as we’ve stated before, is an SVO language, meaning that sentences in English require a subject and a verb, which is sometimes followed by an object. If you have those pieces in that order, you have a sentence.
But we all know that sentences can be far longer and more complex than a subject, verb, and object. They can be full of other words and phrases, brimming with the vitality and artistry of additional descriptions, alterations, or details. That is where modifiers come in. Modifiers are not required in English sentences in the same way that subjects or verbs are—but, if we ignore modifiers, we’re missing out on so many of the coolest things that writers can do.
Of course, you might be asking, what is a modifier? Like the name suggests, modifiers modify other sentence components. So your subject might be something like an avocet, but with a modifier, it can become a graceful avocet or a disgruntled avocet. Or you could modify a verb: if the avocet is whistling, it could be whistling plaintively or triumphantly. In any case, the modifier tells you something more or different about the word it modifies, whether that’s avocet or whistles.
In previous videos, we talked about simple ways to identify verbs and nouns. Maybe a little anticlimactically, there isn’t a simple test for modifiers. Modifiers come in far too many shapes and sizes to be contained by a single test. The fact is, if you’re working with anything in your sentence that isn’t the subject, verb, or object, you’re probably dealing with a modifier.
Traditionally, modifiers fit into two broad categories: adjectivals, which modify nouns and noun phrases and adverbials which modify everything else. But, like we’ve made clear in previous videos, you don’t really need to know the traditional categories to be a better writer. Grammar isn’t about traditional rules or categories—it’s about how the pieces of language fit together. So, in the next several videos, we’ll be taking a look at how modifiers connect to other sentence components. That is, while you don’t really need to know whether a word is an adjective or not to write better, it is important to know where modifiers fit within noun phrases. The question isn’t so much whether a word is a modifier, but, as we’ve seen many times before, whether a word is being used as a modifier in the sort of place where modifiers go.
So, with all that in mind, let’s get started with a closer look at where modifiers fit within verb phrases.