In English, as in German, Spanish, French, or Italian, non-lexicalized noun pre-modifiers cannot be 'right-branching' (i.e., they cannot carry either complements or modifiers of their own placed between the modifier's own head and the modified nominal). For example, noun phrases like "*a full of people room", "*a containing private documents briefcase", "*a satisfied with his work teacher", "*a similar to mine academic career", "*a published in the UK book", "*A born in 2005 Japanese girl", "*a near Heathrow airport luxury hotel", etc. are all syntactically ill-formed (although perfectly transparent from a semantic point of view). That restriction can be shown to follow from Predication theory, Kayne's Antisymmetry Hypothesis and other would-be high-level principles of Language, and at one stage I suspected it could be a sort of 'universal'.

However, I now know that apparently parallel constructions are the rule in Mandarin, somebody told me once, unfortunately without offering details, that they are normal in Russian and other Eastern Indo-European languages, and, so, I suspect they may well exist in still other languages totally unfamiliar to me.

If somebody here could supply me with examples of well-formed parallel examples from other languages and add careful glosses to help me understand them and check that their structures are really parallel, I would be very, very grateful.

Thank you all in advance.

  • What you describe looks like left-branching, not right-branching, the headword-last structures are left-branching. Lithuanian and Latvian are like what you're looking for, but I'm not proficient in them to give you examples.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 17:30
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    @YellowSky The modifiers are right-branching. Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 22:41
  • @GastonÜmlaut - But why? Could you explain that to me?
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 6:06
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    All of your English examples sound fine to me — they just need hyphens to be more easily processed in writing. A common real world example is a made for TV movie. Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 20:27
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    @guifa Really? Most of them are quite dodgy for me (I'm a speaker of Australian English). Those that are most acceptable are ones that are most like complete clauses and have been lexicalised to some degree, such as your example and the OP's '...born in 2005...'. The least acceptable are those that are less like complete clauses and which it's hard to imagine being lexicalised, in particular '...containing private documents...'. Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:54

3 Answers 3


Why wouldn't adjectival phrases like English born again (in the religious sense) count as examples of a right-branching nominal modifier?

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    In "born-again Christian", for example, it would count as a counterexample if it were not for the fact that it is already 'lexicalized' (the OED lists it as "born-again", WITH a hyphen). Initially, in the English version of the Holy Scriptures, it was a normal passive participle, a free syntactic construction, but as it started being used as an N pre-modifier meaning 'reborn' or 'reconverted', the existing constraint on right-branching premodifiers enforced its reanalysis as a single lexical item (with a hyphen). That's why it is NOT a counterexample.
    – user6814
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 9:35

Two things:

  1. This restriction is not universal. Prenominal modifiers in Dutch and German can have complements of their own, although the pattern looks a bit different because these complements precede the head of the modifier (e.g., German "seine [seit 1982 erwartete] Rückkehr", literally "his since 1982 expected return"). Even English allows complements to prenominal modifiers on occasion. I can't remember exactly where, but once I heard the phrase "a Shakesperian in magnitude power struggle".

  2. Even if this restriction were universal, I don't see how it would follow from Antisymmetry. You would have to enact a ban on complex specifiers, which is something that would be clearly wrong in the general case. You could get closer to reality by enacting a ban on complex specifiers to specific heads (e.g., N), but at this point, there isn't any practical difference between adopting Antisymmetry or not.

  • The complements and modifiers that German and Dutch allow to precede adjectives and participles modifying nouns are irrelevant here, as are the (semi?)lexicalized expressions "ready-to-wear", "down-to-earth", "never-say-no", etc. that may precede English Ns (with hyphens!). That is why, in my question, I explicitly referred only to "non-lexicalized" pre-modifiers. As to the way Antisymmetry (Predication, etc.) can be used to predict this restriction in English and similar languages, see "Head-final effects and the nature of modification" in Journal of Linguistics, 40, pp. 1-43 (2004).
    – user6814
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 19:52
  • I don't see why the German/Dutch expressions are irrelevant. It's a clearly productive pattern that you can't reduce to lexicalization, as you can many of the English examples. See also linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-1546.html
    – Koldito
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 12:02
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    German is not of interest to me because German pre-nominal adjectives can take complements/modifiers on their LEFT, but NOT on their RIGHT (cf. eine auf ihre Tochter eifersüchtige Frau, *eine eifersüchtige auf ihre Tochter Frau), i.e., they can be left-branching, but NOT right-branching. The only difference wrt English is that English adjectives/participles pre-modifying nouns canNOT take complements/modifiers ON THEIR LEFT, either, although they can take OTHER left-branching elements, cf. "a THREE TIMES MORE expensive car than this", "a CLEARLY MUCH MORE expensive car", etc.
    – user6814
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 19:42
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    Sorry, there is a mistake in my previous comment: I inadvertently wrote 'complements/modifiers' instead of 'complements'. Of course, English pre-nominal modifiers CAN take certain kinds of modifiers (not PPs, or clauses) of their own ON THEIR LEFT (cf. 'a FAST/RAPIDLY moving vehicle'); what they cannot take, on either side, is SYNTACTIC COMPLEMENTS. I emphasize 'syntactic' because, obviously, in compounds like 'pipe-smoking', 'pipe' is an internal argument of 'smoke' and arguably a 'complement' of the head 'smoking', but not a syntactic complement).
    – user6814
    Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 20:02

It wasn't completely clear to me from your question whether you were asking for examples that weren't Mandarin or Russian, but at least I thought it would be useful for readers to have examples:


ai ni de ren
love you REL people
people who love you


любящий женщин человек
ljubjashchij zhenshchin chelovek
loving women(acc) man
a man who loves women

I'm not proficient in either of these languages, so someone please correct me if I got something wrong.

  • Those examples are, indeed, relevant. Thank you. As I am not really proficient in Mandarin, either, and know practically no Russian at all, I preferred not to offer specific examples, but I know, from reading standard Mandarin grammars in English, that .....的 premodifiers of nouns can contain verbs with even very 'heavy' postverbal complements and modifiers. If somebody can add further examples from other Eastern Indoeuropean languages, or from non-IE ones, with glosses to help me understand them, I would be very grateful.
    – user6814
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 9:20

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