The great, divine, precise, wise straight line – the wisest of all
Italics are the pre-modifiers and the bold is the head noun. The pre-modifier + head noun construction makes an extended noun phrase.
Defintion of a noun phrase, from:
A noun*, and any words in the sentence that modify it; words that can
modify nouns include articles (a, an, the); adjectives; participles;
possessive pronouns and verbs [gerund noun phrases].
*Traditionally, a phrase is understood to have 2 or more words. However, more modern schools of syntax, such as the X-bar, define a phrase as: a word or a combination of words that appears in a set syntactic position.
On this understanding of phrases, the nouns and pronouns in bold in the following sentences are noun phrases.
He saw someone.
Milk is good.
They spoke about corruption.
Another problem is whether a noun phrase is only complete with a determiner. Some websites include the determiner with a noun phrase, or in some the use is interchangeable.
Website 1, includes the determiner with the noun phrase.
The yellow house is for sale.
I want a skate board.
Should we buy the yellow house?
Website 2, includes the determiner but then switches.
The football coach was ecstatic.
She wants to be a beautiful ballerina.
I consider her my favorite teacher.
Has anyone seen an old, big, brown dog?
Let’s go on the long,
Natives were surprised by the early spring thaw.
This is further complicated by the fact that noun phrases may be used without a determiner.
Consider (example taken from Wikipedia with reference to X-bar theory and other theories, under the "with and without determiners section"):
I like big houses
According to the X-bar theory, there are two possible combinations: noun phrase and N-bar (N stands for noun; similar to how verb (V) can be substituted in X ("X-bar theory)).
In the sentence I like big houses, [houses] and [big houses*] are both N-bars, but [big houses] also functions as a noun phrase. I think if you consider a noun phrase by its individual components [adjective + noun] it's a noun phrase, but if you consider it by its function, which is to act as a noun - it is an N-bar.
In some modern theories of syntax, "noun phrases with a determiner" are considered as determiner phrases (DP) whereby the determiner is considered to be the head word and not a noun phrase. In cases without a determiner, that use this approach such as in I like big houses, what is referred to a N-bar may actually be referred to as a noun phrase.
Confusing? I know.
Consider this sentence with a determiner (example taken from Wikipedia with reference to X-bar theory and other theories, under the "with and without determiners section"):
Here is the big house
According to the X-bar theory, both [house] and [big house] are N-bars, while [the big house*] is a noun phrase. This is because if you consider big house as a single noun phrase: the determiner is modifying [big house] as a single noun phrase, forming a longer noun phrase. Some may refer to this as an extended noun phrase (depending on how it is viewed). For example, the subordinate clause the big house may be seen as a single noun phrase, with 'the' and 'big' being pre-modifiers to the head noun 'house'.
In contrast to more modern theories, they would view this as a determiner phrase (if there's a determiner involved) and only a noun phrase (if there is no determiner involved).
Reasons for 'wisest' not being a noun:
- In my example, [the wisest of all lines] may be seen as determiner phrase.
Reasons for 'wisest' being a noun:
- According to the X-bar theory, [wisest] [all] [lines] are n-bars and [the wisest of all lines] is a noun phrase
- Adjectives can be used as nouns, just as nouns can be used as adjectives: as seen here and here
Reasons for it being an adjective:
- If you consider, [the wisest of all lines] as a noun phrase and not a determiner phrase and looked at each components individually: wisest is an adjective but functions as a noun in a wider picture.
- If you consider a noun phrase as only complete with a determiner, then wisest in [the wisest of all lines] is an adjective: (determiner + adjective + determiner + adjective + noun) - all of which are pre-modifiers modifying the 'head noun'
lines, as shown by Teachingenglish.org.uk's example, in particular this one.
Due to lots of consistencies and overlaps, I don't think it's correct to call it either an adjective or noun without it being debated. I think the terms fused modifer head are more appropriate.
However, like my English teacher says, "You can say anything in English as long as you can back it up".
TL;DR Wow, I can't believe I answered my own question but it was frustrating me in search of a concrete answer, only to find there isn't one.