A. "this is really a happy marriage"

As for sentence A, is it correct to grammatically analyze the adverb "really" as modifying the noun phrase "a happy marriage"?

I have already done some research and found the information that an adverb can modify a noun phrase, so I think that in sentence A, the adverb "really" does modify the noun phrase "a happy marriage".

What do you think?


This is really a happy marriage.

No; "really" is not modifying the noun phrase "a happy marriage", but it is a modifier in the copular verb phrase.

Note, though, that adverbs can freely modify noun phrases:

[1] I'm [virtually her only friend].

[2] I bought [almost the last copy].

And adverbs can modify nouns:

[3] Industrial action resulted in the withdrawal indefinitely of the vehicular ferry service.

[4] A shortage of timber internationally led to a steep increase in prices.

The construction in [3] and [4] is fairly rare and subject to severe constraints, for example adverbial modifiers of nouns are restricted to post-head position, and there is a constraint on the kind of adverb permitted. Manner adverbs, for example, are excluded.


Adverbs cannot modify nouns by definition. That would be like draft beer in a can. Your clause is the same as "this really is a happy marriage", or "this is a really happy marriage", in which the adverb modifies an adjective.

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Yes. "Really" can function as premodifier of a noun phrase.

As you can see, both "really a happy marriage" and "really quite a happy marriage" are grammatical.

Oxford English Grammar (1996) says:

Functions of adverb phrases

1. Premodifier of an adjective

We're far too close to it.

2. Premodifier of an adverb

I'm going to give you a prescription to clear up the infection ... then you need to have your teeth extremely thoroughly cleaned ... as soon as possible.

3. Adverbial

Refunds of fees are not normally available.

4. Subject predicative

At least we're outside. [Agnes Owens 'Patience' in Alison Fell The Seven Cardinal Virtues]

5. Object predicative

Shall I move these away?

6. Premodifier of a preposition

But I have a feeling they might be right by the door but if they're not then it's not worth it.

7. Premodifier of a pronoun

When I look around at my friends, virtually all of them seem to have got careers.

8. Premodifier of a determiner

Everybody knows that the results in fact have absolutely no meaning and can be interpreted any way you like.

9. Premodifier of a numeral

The chaps around forty to forty-five are all called John

10. Premodifier of a noun phrase

This is really quite a problem I imagine

11. Postmodifier of a noun phrase

Your friend here does she doodle a lot.

12. Postmodifier of an adjective or adverb

Well right that's fair enough then.

And oddly enough it's not only outsiders who ask it.

13. Complement of a preposition

Oh I should have thought he would have had one before now.


My personal view is that, in the sentence you give, 'really' is either modifying 'is' or it is slightly misplaced and is modifying 'happy' (in either case, it fulfils the ordinary role of an adverb)

- Is that the truth?

- It really is.

That's an example of how 'really' can modify 'is' - I'd say it's an emphasizer.

- It's a really happy marriage.

(Straightforward adverb + adjective and, again, 'really' serves as an emphasizer.)

Finally, if we wanted to attach the word to the marriage, we might say:

- They've been together happily for 40 years: that's a real marriage!

There could be no question of using 'really' there.

Hope this helps,


fire1 Can an adverb modify a noun phrase?

The whole concept of an adverb modifying a noun or noun phrase is basically just a horrible fudge that has arisen because no one can think of any better explanation.

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Personally, I would compare, for example, these two sentences:

- My friend here would like to say a few words.

- My friend - the one I told you about last week - would like to meet you.

The first is supposed to be an example of 'here', an adverb, as a postmodifier of a noun. But I'd say that both sentences are examples of a noun form in apposition. The first sentence involves a demonstrative pronoun, the second involves a noun phrase.

That's my view.


 BillJ's reply was promoted to an answer.
BillJ[2] I bought [almost the last copy].

Hi BillJ,

Then even in this sentence "The soup is almost water", can "almost" be analyzed as modifying the uncountable noun "almost" because a noun phrase can consist of a single noun?

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