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This is actually a question that came up when I was studying Japanese. Unfortunately my grasp of the technical language of syntax is very limited, and I never fully comprehended the idea of a noun modifying clause. The phrase given in my Japanese study guide to demonstrate the difference is (without)

I took a photograph.

and with

This is a photograph taken by me.

Can someone break this example down for me, and perhaps provide a few other examples like this for simple and complex situations (if this even makes sense) to help me understand this construct?

It is also possible that the guide has been poorly translated and there is a different name for this. If so, what is it?


It seems that the question is not entirely clear to some, so although I have my answer I want to add some more information to (hopefully) raise the quality of the question. None of the text above this was edited.

The block quoted text is an example lifted exactly from a study guide, not from notes taken in a class, and not translated from Japanese. It appears to have been designed to show a reader who does not know what a "noun modifying clause" is is and how to apply it in English, before doing it in Japanese.

To clarify, the first block quote is a sentence without a "noun modifying clause" and the second is a sentence with one.

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Meta question discussing this question's on or off topic status. Good question, by the way :) – Matt E. Эллен Dec 7 '11 at 15:23
Oh, I didn't even think to put this on linguistics! Mind you, it seems to me that it's a boundary case. I'd be against moving it if possible. – qubyte Dec 7 '11 at 15:25
You need more details here...we don't have your guide. Which example is which? and what is being contrasted? Which phrase is being identified as a noun modifying clause? – Mitch Dec 7 '11 at 18:02
@Mitch: Is it not clear in the question? The first is without and the second with (the noun modifying clause). Beyond that the text give no additional detail except for the translation of those two phrases into Japanese. – qubyte Dec 8 '11 at 0:36
I can invent some additional examples. Give me a while though. I have to work. – qubyte Dec 8 '11 at 0:41
up vote 24 down vote accepted

The term you probably want in this case is Relative Clause. There are other kinds of adjective clauses (i.e, noun-modifying clauses), but relatives are by far the most common and the most complex. In particular, relative clauses, like many subordinate clauses, are subject to a variety of deletion rules that make them shorter, or even shorter still.

Probably the most important is the rule that has applied in the second sentence.

This is a photograph taken by Bill.

(taken by me has stylistic problems; let's use an example without side issues.) This is in fact reduced from a sentence showing the bells and whistles that relatives deck themselves out in.

This is a photograph which was taken by Bill.

or, alternatively,

This is a photograph that was taken by Bill.

The rule called Whiz-Deletion by linguists (from the fact that it deletes a Wh-word plus a form of be, quite often is; a monosyllabic variant of "Wh-is deletion"), when applied to a relative clause, creates a bare verb phrase without a tensed verb, but with whatever is left after the deletion. Any phrase of more than one word simply goes after the noun it modifies.

Interestingly, there is a codicil to Whiz-Deletion that applies when there is only one adjective left after deletion. The adjective has to be moved in front of the noun; it can't appear after it the way phrases can; conversely, phrases can't appear in front of the noun, but must follow it.

  • Bill is a man who is happy to see you.
  • Bill is a man happy to see you.
  • *Bill is a happy to see you man.


  • Bill is a man who is happy.
  • *Bill is a man happy.
  • Bill is a happy man.

It has long been suspected that all attributive adjectives, including the ones that precede nouns, are the result of reduction of relative clauses.

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By the way, I don't make up these names. Honest. – John Lawler Dec 7 '11 at 16:19
Hahaha. This is very detailed, and probably exactly what I'm looking for! – qubyte Dec 7 '11 at 16:25
I just noticed you referenced Japanese. As you probably know by now, Japanese is a Left-branching language -- relative clauses precede their antecedent -- whereas English is Right-branching. – John Lawler Dec 7 '11 at 18:13
Indeed I do. Thanks for your answer. You've given me exactly the information I needed, and a little more. – qubyte Dec 8 '11 at 1:32

To the extent that taken by me tells us more about a photograph, it can be said to modify the noun photograph. It is not, however, a clause, and ‘noun modifying clause’ is not a descriptive term I’ve ever come across in English grammar. Perhaps it's used in Japanese grammar.

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Perhaps so. This could be why I found nothing on that phrase. – qubyte Dec 7 '11 at 15:45
In fact, taken by me is indeed a clause. See CGEL p. 446. – Brett Reynolds Dec 7 '11 at 17:38
In fact, the jury is out on whether taken by me is best regarded as a (non-finite) clause or a phrase. I can find authorities pronouncing both ways. There is no final court of appeal. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 1 '13 at 22:01
@Edwin Ashworth. More than two years on, I would now say that taken by me was a clause, and agree with John that it was a relative clause. It’s an ellipsis where the full form would be which was taken by me. – Barrie England Apr 2 '13 at 7:10

I don't know the proper name for this, but from your example I surmise the book is trying to point out the difference between two possible constructions:

  1. "We will fix the found issues". Here "found" acts as an adjective. I think this would be a far less common construction here than its alternative:

  2. "We will fix the issues (that have been) found". Here "found" is not an adjective; the sentence looks as though it were the result of omitting "that have been" from the longer sentence.

Your example could be read as "This is a photograph (that has been) taken by me".

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protected by Rathony Feb 28 at 6:27

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