Grammar in EAP

Nouns and Nominal Groups

Introduction

Formal written English uses nouns and nominal groups (noun-based phrases) more than verbs.

One simple example is:

Like all other forms of life, we human beings are the product of evolution.
Like all other forms of life, we human beings are the product of how we have evolved.

The noun "evolution" is preferred to the verb "evolve" and the "wh" clause.

Another example is:

Premack used a set of plastic chips to teach a chimpanzee named Sarah the meaning of a set of symbols.
Premack used a set of plastic chips to teach a chimpanzee named Sarah what a set of symbols mean.

"The meaning of the symbols" is preferred to "what the symbols mean"

Try this exercise: Exercise

"Evolution" is formed by a process of nominalisation, the process of forming a noun from some other word class. In this case the noun "evolution" is formed from the verb "evolve".

Nominal Group

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 (postmodification or qualification) or both.

 

Nominal groups typically function as as subject or object in a clause, but can also function as complements of preposaions 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 nominalisation.

 

Nominal groups (noun-based phrases): Grammar: Nominal Groups

Noun

Nouns are words such as “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”.

 

See: Grammar: Nouns

 

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.

Articles

A typical structure of a nominal group is dmhq – determiner, modifier, head & qualifier. An article is one important  type of determiner.

 

See: Grammar: Articles

Nominalisation

Nominalisation is the process of forming a noun from some other word class. e.g. red + ness = redness. EAP uses a large number of nominalisations.

 

See: Grammar: Nominalisation

Plural

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).

 

See: Grammar: Plural Nouns

Modification

A nominal group consists of a head word which may be modified either before the head word (premodification) or after the head word (postmodification 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.

 

Postmodifiers can be either restrictive or non-restictive. Overall, restrictive postmodifiers are more common (85%)in academic texts.

 

Subordinate clauses/embedding: Grammar: Post-Modification - Embedding

 

Complement clauses are common post-modifiers: Grammar: Postmodification Complement Clauses

Typical premodifiers 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.

 

Participles are used for both preand postmodification: Grammar: Participles

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).

 

For example:

  • premodification – the constitutional aspects
  • postmodification – varieties common in India, the festival proper, something different

See: Grammar: Adjectives

 Prepositional Phrases

Prepositions are words such as: "up", "on", "in", or "over". prepositional phrase is a preposition followed by a nominal group - "in the laboratory".

 

A prepositional phrase is a typlcal postmodifier.

 

See: Grammar: Prepositional Phrases