Modifiers that Specify

Easily taken for granted, words like the, your, not, every, and very serve a particular role in grammar. These special modifiers are called specifiers. Modifiers that specify add precise details or clarification to the meaning of words to enhance and clarify communication. They can specify quantity (e.g., "three" in "three apples"), quality (e.g., "happy" in "happy child"), time (e.g., "yesterday" in "yesterday's meeting"), or manner (e.g., "quickly" in "runs quickly"). 

Modifiers that Specify Modifiers that Specify

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    Specifiers ensure sentences are more informative and expressive by providing additional details about the nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs they modify.

    Modifiers that Specify: Modifiers Explained

    To understand modifiers that specify, you need to understand modifiers in general. Here's a refresher.

    A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that provides extra information about a particular word.

    Modifiers function as either adjectives or adverbs. A modifier that adds information to a noun or pronoun acts as an adjective. It acts as an adverb if it adds information to a verb, adjective, or adverb.

    Modifiers that Specify, An image of three Matryoshka dolls with the one on the left being the biggest doll and the one on the right the smallest, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Nested modifiers modifying modifiers.

    Modifiers can stack together in a phrase, clause, or sentence. A modifier can modify another modifier: for example, an adverb can modify an adjective, which modifies a noun.

    The word being modified is called the head, or the head word. You'll see specific examples of head words and tips on identifying them later!

    Meaning of Modifiers that Specify

    The term modifiers that specify doesn't refer to a grammatical function, but to a function of meaning.

    Modifiers that specify, also called specifiers, are modifiers that narrow down the meaning of the head word.

    What does that mean, exactly? Take a look at this example:

    Sandwich tastes the same.

    The word sandwich in this sentence is vague and confusing. Which sandwich? All sandwiches? One sandwich? The word needs a specifier for clarity and definition.

    Every sandwich tastes the same.

    Every sandwich is clearer and more specific than just sandwich. The modifier every helped to specify the meaning of sandwich.

    This is the purpose of a specifier: to narrow down the meaning of an otherwise vague or non-specific word.

    Rules of Modifiers that Specify

    Specifiers aren't limited to one part of speech. They can take multiple forms, including:

    • determiners: the, that, an, a, this ...
    • possessives: my, your, Jamie's, their ...
    • degree words: very, hardly, rather, relatively ...

    These are some of the most common types of specifiers, although not all specifiers fit into one of these three categories.

    Determiners

    Determiners are words like articles, numbers, and other adjectives. In the example every sandwich tastes the same, the word every is a determiner.

    A determiner is a word that indicates or determines the noun it modifies. It acts as an adjective.

    A determiner comes before the head noun or head pronoun. It can specify whether the head is general, specific, or whether it is one or many.

    That fish scares me.

    The determiner that modifies the head noun fish. Without the determiner, it would be unclear if fish refers to the general idea of fish, one specific fish, or several fish. That makes it clear that the sentence refers to one specific fish.

    Possessives

    Possessives are modifiers that show possession. They include some pronouns, as well as nouns ending in -'s.

    A possessive is a word that shows ownership of the noun it modifies. It acts as an adjective.

    A possessive typically comes before the head noun.

    She reserved a table at the restaurant for his birthday.

    The possessive his modifies the head noun birthday. Without his, the phrase for birthday would be incomplete and unclear. The possessive specifies whose birthday the sentence mentions.

    In some less common scenarios, a possessive can appear after the head noun, in the form of a prepositional phrase.

    Jaques is a friend of my mother's.

    The possessive in this sentence is the entire prepositional phrase of my mother's. It specifies the otherwise unclear noun friend.

    Degree words

    Degree words are a kind of adverb. They specifically modify adjectives and other adverbs to show scale.

    A degree word is an adverb that adds information of scale or degree to adjectives and other adverbs.

    Degree words come before the head adverb or head adjective.

    Have you seen this movie yet? It's relatively new.

    The degree word relatively modifies the head adjective new. It answers the question, how new? Even though the sentence it's new makes sense alone, the degree word narrows down the meaning of new.

    Examples of Modifiers that Specify

    Specifiers are a type of modifier that comes in different forms such as:

    • articles (a, an, the)
    • demonstratives (this, that, these, those)
    • possessives (my, your, his, her)
    • and numbers (one, two, three)

    Here's an example: in the phrase "Those four big cats," "Those," "four," and "big" are specifiers giving specific detail about the noun "cats." Now here is a closer look at sentences with specifiers.

    Modifiers that Specify, An illustration of a waving hand next to a speech bubble that says Hola, StudySmarterFig. 1 -

    In the sentence "He speaks Spanish somewhat fluently," the word somewhat is the specifier.

    He speaks Spanish somewhat fluently.

    The specifier in this sentence is somewhat. Without it, the sentence still makes sense: he speaks Spanish fluently. The modifier somewhat specifies the meaning of fluently. He doesn't speak Spanish extremely fluently or completely fluently—just somewhat fluently.

    In this example, somewhat modifies the head adverb fluently. Because it modifies an adverb, somewhat is also an adverb. It is a degree word because it specifies how fluently he speaks Spanish.

    Why did you eat my lunch?

    The specifier in this sentence is my. Without it, lunch would be unclear and non-specific. My specifies the meaning of lunch.

    In this example, my modifies the head noun lunch. Because it modifies a noun, my is an adjective. It is possessive because it specifies ownership.

    Identification of Modifiers that Specify

    In the previous examples, the modifiers that specify were highlighted. But how would you identify an unmarked specifier in a sentence? Following these two steps will help you identify modifiers that specify:

    1. Identify the head of the modifier.
    2. Determine whether the modifier specifies the meaning of the head.

    This example demonstrates both steps:

    The delicious cake is completely gone.

    This example focuses on two modifiers: delicious and completely. Each modifier may or may not be a specifier.

    The first step is to identify the head of the modifier. To do this, ask yourself, "[modifier] what?" The answer to this question is the head.

    delicious

    Delicious what? Delicious cake.

    The head of the modifier delicious is cake.

    completely

    Completely what? Completely gone.

    The head of the modifier completely is gone.

    Now that you've identified the head of the modifier, the next step is to determine whether the modifier specifies the meaning of the head. To do this, rewrite the sentence without the modifier, then decide whether the head is vaguer or less specific.

    delicious

    Without modifier: The cake is completely gone.

    Without the modifier delicious, cake is not vaguer or less specific. Instead of narrowing down the meaning of cake, delicious adds an extra description to cake. Delicious is not a specifier.

    completely

    Without modifier: The delicious cake is gone.

    Without the modifier completely, the meaning of gone is less specific. Other words, like almost and not, would limit the meaning of gone in this sentence. Completely is a specifier.

    Following these steps will help you recognize modifiers that specify in a text.

    Modifiers that Specify - Key Takeaways

    • A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that provides extra information about a particular word.
    • Modifiers that specify, also called specifiers, are modifiers that narrow down the meaning of the head word.
    • Modifiers that specify can take many forms, including determiners, possessives, and degree words.
    • To identify the head of a modifier, ask yourself, "[modifier] what?" The answer to this question is the head.
    • To determine whether a modifier is a specifier, rewrite the sentence without the modifier, then decide whether the head is vaguer or less specific.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Modifiers that Specify

    What are modifiers that specify?

    Modifiers that specify add precise details or clarification to the meaning of words to enhance and clarify communication. Specifiers ensure sentences are more informative and expressive by providing additional details about the nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs they modify.

    What are examples of modifiers that specify?

    Modifiers that specify can take multiple forms, including:

    • determiners: the, that, an, a, this ...
    • possessives: my, your, Jamie's, their ...
    • degree words: very, hardly, rather, relatively ...

    How do you identify modifiers that specify?

    To identify a specifier, identify the head of the modifier, then determine whether the modifier specifies the meaning of the head.

    What are the rules for modifiers that specify?

    Modifiers that specify can take multiple forms, including determiners, possessives, and degree words. Instead of adding an extra description, specifiers define the meaning of the modified word.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Identify the modifier that specifies the word finished in this sentence.Is your paper already totally finished?

    Identify the modifier that specifies the word book in this sentence.I haven't read your book yet; I'm sorry!

    Is absolutely a determiner, possessive, or degree word?This absolutely ridiculous rule should be removed.

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