Nominal Group

When describing things generally in English it is common to (metaphorically?) refer to “bodies”: the human body, a body of water, the body politic, etc. The picture below here is a camera body.

What kind of camera body? It is a single reflex camera body, or SLR. But there are two types of SLR – film or digital. This one is a digital SLR. Many companies make digital SLR cameras and this one in particular is made by Nikon. Nikon produces a range of digital SLR cameras in two main formats. One of them uses a full-frame sensor and the other uses a smaller, crop sensor. Nikon calls these FX- or DX-format  cameras. The one above is a Nikon FX-format digital SLR camera. In the FX-format range, this one is an entry-level model, which Nikon has called the “D750”. It is a popular model. Here it is on Amazon:

Nikon D750

Notice however, that you have to buy a lens for the camera separately. So this is only the camera body for sale. At quite a good price.

If we put all of this information together we get a group of words:

Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body

This forms what is called the Nominal Group. Although there are many words in the group above, it is actually only comprised of two parts: a Head Noun (“body”) and long string of Classifiers that tell us what kind of Head. We know they are all Classifiers for two reasons. They either do not “accept degrees of comparison or intensity” ( we cannot say it is a very digital camera) or they are “organized in mutually exclusive and exhaustive sets” (there are only a certain number in the set of Dxxx Nikon cameras) with which to “classify a set of things into a system of smaller sets” (H&M, p.377). Importantly for EFL learners is that we use Classifiers from the outside in. For example, a long product description like “Dyson Ball Multi Floor Origin High Performance HEPA Filter Upright Vacuum” would be referred to casually first as a ‘Dyson Vacuum’, then as a ‘Dyson Ball Upright Vacuum’, and so on.

At times though, we may want to do more than just classify something. We may want to describe it using what are termed ‘epithets‘. Here is an excerpt from an Amazon review:

I could not get good snaps … with this defective camera.

Looking at the underlined words, we can see that they function in two different ways. The first, “good”, gives us the author’s subjective opinion of the pictures, while the second, “defective”, presents some objective property of the camera itself. These are called attitudinal Epithets and experiential Epithets respectively (H&M, p.376).

Additionally, it may be necessary to distinguish between talking generally about cameras (“I want a camera”) or one specific camera (“I want the D750″),  a specific location (“I want that camera”), or a specific person (“I want her camera”). This is the Deictic element of the noun group. It may also be necessary to indicate how many belong to  a particular class using a Numerative, which may also be definite (“Those two cameras on the bottom left are made by Olympus”) or indefinite (“I have several cameras”).

Image result for compact cameras range

These elements of the noun group all combine in a certain fixed order, as in this example from H&M (p.364):

Noun Group



Real-World Order of Premodifiers

Yesterday, we were looking in class at a recipe text (for Strawberry Shortcake:) when we came across an interesting extended noun group:

  • 2 mashed hard-cooked large egg yolks

I’d always tried to explain the order of adjectives grammatically, with some rules that explain why the order is the way it is. This example, however, made me think that perhaps there is not also some real-world influence on the order. You need some egg yolks so you go to the fridge and pick out 2 large ones, cook them (personally I’d say ‘hard-boiled’ – is that an Americanism?), and then mash them in a bowl. It is really physically impossible to do it in any other order. It seems then that the real-world process is the main determining factor on the ordering of adjectives here.