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Vital Noun Modifiers


Vital Noun Modifiers. This is a great topic. Different noun modifiers serve different purposes. Some are necessary to identify the noun, whereas others merely add descriptive detail. Often we fully appreciate the role a noun modifier plays when we restate the sentence without the modifier.

Here's an example. In college, we heard a lecture by a woman who had won two Pulitzer prizes. Okay, there are relatively few women that won two Pulitzer prizes, that's a very elite category there. There's only a few possibilities about who that woman could be. Now if I drop that, in college we heard a lecture by a woman.

Well now it's completely unclear who that woman is. That woman could be any one of the over three billion women on the planet. So in dropping this, we've created a lot of ambiguity that did not exist in the original sentence. So that clause was very important for contributing to an understanding of the identity of that woman.

Example two, notice we have the exact same modifying clause. W.S. Merwin, who had won two Pulitzer prizes, was named the US Poet Laureate in 2010. We drop it here. W.S. Merwin was named the US Poet Laureate in 2010. That's still the same basic meaning.

It's true a little extra detail was lost in the clause. But the main sentence has the same meaning that it had either with the clause or without the clause. It's still perfectly clear as is. The first kind of noun modifier is absolutely necessary for establishing the identity of the noun.

When this kind of noun is absent, the identity of the modifying noun is called into question. This kind is called a vital noun modifier. Other terms you may see in other writings include restrictive modifiers or restrictive clauses, essential noun modifiers or mission critical modifiers. All of these are terms that other sources use.

We'll use the term vital noun modifier. The other kind of modifier simply provides description or useful information, but is not necessary to establish the identity. If we remove it, the identity of the modified noun is still perfectly clear. This kind is simply called a non-vital noun modifier. Here's another example, cars that cost more than $100,000 are considered luxury items.

So here we're talking about a very specific category of cars. Only those cars that cost more than $100,000. So this would be very expensive cars and we're saying that these very expensive cars are considered luxury items. Okay. Now if we drop that.

Cars are considered luxury items. Well in this sentence it sounds like we're talking about all cars. So this is a very different meaning. We changed the group that we're talking about so we have a different meaning. So dropping that, that clause there changes the meaning of the sentence radically.

So that means what we have there is a vital noun modifier. Now by contrast houses in San Francisco which cost more than $100,000 dollars are hard for anyone but the wealthy to afford. If we drop that modifying phase we get houses in San Francisco are hard for anyone but the wealthy to afford. That's the same basic meaning.

In other words, we know the exact houses we're talking about, the houses in San Francisco. That's perfectly clear. We're adding a little bit of extra detail with that modifying phrase but that modifying phrase doesn't change anything about the meaning outside of the modifying phrase.

So that is a non-vital modifier. Now these examples are exemplary in a few different ways. They demonstrate a few patterns that I will now formalized as rules for vital and nonvital modifiers. Rule number one concerns punctuation. Vital noun modifiers typically touch the nouns they modify without any commas.

There's no separation with commas. Non-vital modifiers are simply, are st, typically set off in commas, so they're contained by commas, separated from the rest of the sentence by commas. So for example, the author who wrote Beowulf knew about blah, blah, blah. That's a vital noun modifier, because if we just had the author, that could be anybody.

But the author who wrote Beowulf. So we're talking about a very specific individual and notice that there's no comma. So in a vital noun modifier, there's no comma, now meanwhile the non-vital modifier, Chaucer, who wrote The Canterbury Tales. Well this is a non-vital modifier, because we know who Chaucer is.

Chaucer is a particular author. We can look up about that author, but the point is, we don't need, what's in the modifying noun, the modifying clause, to tell us who Chaucer is. So that is a non-vital modifier and it is properly set off in commas. Of course, punctuation is not directly tested on the GMAT, but in a moment we'll see cases in which punctuation will indicate something important about the grammar.

The next rule we'll talk about is that versus which. We mentioned these words in the previous video lesson on relative clause modifiers. Both of these begin relative clauses. On the GMAT that is almost always used for a vital noun modifiers and which is almost always used for non-vital modifiers. So for example an element that conducts electricity well.

Well, by just saying an element that could be any one of a number of elements. We don't identify it very well but if we say an element that conducts electricity well. We narrow it down so that definitely helps to establish the identity. That is a vital modifier. Silver which conducts electricity well.

Well we know what silver is. We know exactly what that is, there's no ambiguity what we mean when we say the word silver. And so, which conducts electricity well, that adds some extra information. Yes, that's interesting to know but it's not necessary to help us determine what silver is because we already know that.

So that would be a non-vital modifier set off in commas and beginning with the word which. This means and almost always a that clause will follow the noun it modifies without a comma. Because it's a vital noun modifier it will have no comma. A which clause will follow the noun it modifies set off by commas.

Because it's a non-vital modifier it always has commas. The GMAT never has answer choices that differ only by punctuation. And that's since they do not test punctuation itself. But they will have five answer choices. For example they might have noun comma modifier and make a student decide whether the modifier should begin with that or which.

The presence of the comma indicates a non-vital modifier which indicates the use of which. And similarly if there were no comma it would indicate a vital modifier and it would indicate the use of that. In this sense the punctuation contributes to deciding the right answer. Here's a fragment of a sentence correction question.

So this is just a little part of the question. A two-year stock option, that, option, that. So if we're gonna use the word, that, what follows would be a vital noun modifier and so we'd need no comma. So having the comma is incorrect. We'd need no comma.

If we're gonna use the word which that would be a non vital modifier we would need the comma for that. And so that means that the no comma option would be wrong so right away without even knowing what follows we could eliminate these two answer choices. Now to decide whether it should be vital or non vital we'd have to see what clause follows and whether it was necessary to help us understand the identity of a two year stock option.

But notice that the punctuation was influential in eliminating some answer choices. Finally, we'll talk about priority. Vital noun modifiers are of a higher priority than non-vital modifiers. What I mean by this is vital noun modifiers absolutely must touch the modified noun even if that means they come between the noun and a non-vital modifier.

It is more important that the vital noun modifier touched the noun. A direct consequence of this is one example of an exception to the modifier touch rule. So here is the first thing, first that we've encountered in these videos an exception to the modifier touch rule. A non-vital modifier does not have to touch a noun if a vital noun modifier comes between it and the noun.

So for example, Henry II of England, who was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, brought Ireland under the subjection of the English crown. And so some people might say, oh, wait, there's a problem here, because of the modifier touch rule. England, who was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Obviously, England wasn't married to anybody.

But that's, that's a misunderstanding of the sentence here. Of England is a vital noun modifier so that touches the subject Henry II, it establishes the identity. Of course there were a few different Henry IIs of different countries. This is telling us which Henry II. That's very important to establish his identity.

So it's a vital noun modifier. And then we get this non vital modifier. Of course it's set off in commas. This non vital modifier does not touch the non, it modifies, it modifies Henry II, but does not touch Henry II because it's set off from it by the presence of a vital non modifier.

So a vital non modifier can interrupt the modifier touched rule. Here's another example. Rule Britannia is an anthem of the British Navy, which was composed by Thomas Arne in 1740. Now some people say, would look at this and say well this sentence is wrong because the British Navy wasn't composed by Thomas Arne but again this is a misunderstanding of the sentence.

Of the British Navy is a vital noun modifier. The word anthem could refer to almost anything but if we say anthem of the British Navy, well that's very specific. So, that's a vital noun modifier. And which was composed by Thomas Arne in 1740, this is a non vital modifier. It is set off in commas.

It uses the which, which is the signal of a non-vital modifier. This is separated. It modifies the word anthem but it is separated from the word anthem by the vital noun modifier of the British Navy. So again, a vital noun modifier is interrupting the modifier touch rule, and this sentence is perfectly correct.

Finally, the largest moon of Saturn, which contains liquid hydrocarbons in the polar region, is the only natural satellite of a planet with a dense atmosphere. And so people get bothered here, they say, well which contains liquid hydrocarbons, that could refer to either the moon, or to Saturn. Well, again, that's not true. That is a misunderstanding of this rule.

Of Saturn is a vital noun modifier. Which contains liquid hydrocarbons in the polar region is a non-vital modifier again, set off with commas. It begins with the word which. It's a non-vital modifier and it modifies the word, moon. It doesn't touch the word moon because it is a vital noun modifier of Saturn that interrupts the modifier touch rule none the less it still very clearly and unambiguously modifies the word moon.

If we wanted to modify Saturn we'd have to re-phrase the sentence somehow because the sentence as it's written right here, very clearly indicates that the which applies to the largest moon. Here's a practice question, and this is gonna be a little different. This is not a standard sentence correction question, this is a multiple answer question.

So it means multiple answers could be right or wrong. Could be all four are right or all four are wrong. So I want you to decide which answers are right and which answers are wrong. Pause the video then we'll talk about this. The New York City borough of Queens, founded as part of New Netherlands, named for Queen Catherine of Braganza, is home of the New York Mets.

Well in option A we have a problem. Founded as part of New Netherlands, named for Queen Catherine of Braganza. It sounds that what we're trying to say is that New Netherlands was named for Queen Catherine of Braganza. And that's not correct. It's Queens that was named for the Queen, not New Netherlands.

So that's a problem right there. We have a problem with a misplaced modified and notice that both of these are non-vital modifiers, they're set off with commas. And this is a problem. We can't separate one non vital modifier from the noun with another non vital modifier.

We can't do that. We create this misplaced modifier situation, so this is wrong. In the second one, we have named for Queen Catherine of Braganza, was founded as part of Queens and is home of. So that's perfectly correct. We have two verbs in parallel, that's 100% correct.

And the third one, named for Queen Catherine of Braganza, so far so good. Founded as part of New Netherlands, but wait, now it sounds like either Catherine or Braganza was founded as part of New Netherlands. And again, this is not what we're trying to say. Again, what we have here is one non-vital modifier followed immediately by an other non-vital modifier.

And we can't do that, we can't just stack them next to each other. Because then we get this misplaced modifier situation. So this is incorrect. However, in D, we have a perfectly correct solution. We can put two nonvital modifiers in parallel, in parallel using the word and. Founded as part of New Netherlands and is named for Catherine of Braganza, that's 100% correct, so having two verbs in parallel is correct, having two nonvital modifiers is also correct.

In summary. Vital noun modifiers establish the correct identity of the noun, non vital modifiers merely provide descriptions or additional information. And again one of the easiest ways to see this is drop the modifier from the sentence.

Then if the meaning changes radically, you have the identity of the noun is, is put into question by dropping that modifier. Then what has been dropped is a vital noun modifier. Non-vital modifiers are generally set off with commas, vital modifiers take no commas. Use that for, for vital modifiers, which for non-vital modifiers.

And vital noun modifiers must touch the noun and can come between a non-vital modifier and the modified noun. So this is our first example of an exception to the modifier touch rule.

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