modifier (grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

modifiers in English grammar
"I'm an excellent housekeeper," said actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. "Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house." (The words in italics are modifiers.). (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


In English grammar, a modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that functions as an adjective or adverb to provide additional information about another word or word group (called the head). Also known as an adjunct.

As illustrated below, modifiers in English include adjectives, adverbs, demonstratives, possessive determiners, prepositional phrases, degree modifiers, and intensifiers

Modifiers that appear before the head are called premodifiers; modifiers that appear after the head are called postmodifiers.

Modifiers may be either restrictive (essential to the meaning of a sentence) or nonrestrictive (additional but not essential elements in a sentence).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


From the Latin, "measure"

Examples and Observations

  • "You can tell me now. I'm reasonably sober."
    (Rick in Casablanca)
  • Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
    Rick: I'm a drunkard.
    Captain Renault: That makes Rick a citizen of the world.
  • "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
    (Humphrey Bogart as Rick in Casablanca, 1942)
  • "As the leader of all illegal activities in Casablanca, I am an influential and respected man."
    (Sydney Greenstreet as Senor Ferrari in Casablanca)

  • "I met a girl who sang the blues
    and I asked her for some happy news,
    but she just smiled and turned away.
    And the three men I admire most,
    The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost,
    They caught the last train to the coast
    The day the music died."
    (Don McLean, "American Pie")
  • "Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways it can change someone else's life forever."
    (Margaret Cho)
  • Types of Qualifying Modifiers
    "We may use different types of conceptual units in qualifying a thing or an instance of a thing and, accordingly, use different types of modifiers in English. The sentences under (4) illustrate the most common usages of qualifying modifiers in English. In all of the examples, the head noun detective is qualified in different ways. The modifiers are printed in italics.
    (4a) Hercule Poirot is a brilliant detective.
    (4b) Agatha Christie's detective Poirot is a legend all over the world.
    (4c) The detective with the waxed moustache solves the most baffling cases.
    (4d) Hercule Poirot is the famous detective created by the English mystery writer Agatha Christie.
    (4e) Poirot is a detective who has come to England as a war refugee.
    "In sentence (4a), the adjective brilliant modifies the predicate noun detective. . . .

    "In sentence (4b), the head noun detective is modified by the complex noun phrase Agatha Christie's, where the genitive morpheme 's expresses the relation of possession.

    "In sentence (4c), the noun a detective is modified by the prepositional phrase with the waxed moustache. . . .

    "In sentence (4d), two nonrestrictive modifiers are added to qualify the definite referent detective: the adjective famous and the participial phrase created by the English mystery-writer Agatha Christie. . . .

    "In sentence (4e), a detective is modified by a relative clause."
    (Günter Radden and René Dirven, Cognitive English Grammar. John Benjamins, 2007)
  • Modifiers and Complements
    "The notions modifier and complement can now be characterized explicitly in a way that reconstructs the normal usage of these traditional terms: a 'modifier' is a conceptually dependent predication that combines with a head, whereas a 'complement' is a conceptually autonomous predication that combines with a head. The table is consequently a complement (or 'argument') of above in above the table, and this entire prepositional phrase functions as a modifier of lamp in the lamp above the table."
    (Ronald W. Langacker, "Cognitive Grammar."Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings, ed. by Dirk Geeraerts. Mouton de Gruyter, 2006)

Pronunciation: MOD-i-FI-er