Learn English – Adjectives modifying nouns


In this sentence, does the adjective "warm" modify "tea cup" or just "cup?"

"That is a warm tea cup."

If the adjective "warm" from the previous example modifies "tea cup" then would "warm" modify the entire phrase "cup of tea" in this sentence?

"This is a warm cup of tea."

In this sentence, does "nicest" modify "mean person" or just "person?"

"You are the nicest mean person I have ever met."

Best Answer

Technically, "warm" modifies "cup." But it's interesting to note that English does have the concept of a compound noun. This means that "tea cup" can be considered a compound noun and, therefore, "warm" modifies "tea cup." The same would be true for "mean person," but it's usually easier to simply separate all the adjectives and nouns.

This becomes more obvious using the example, "cup of tea." Due to the function word "of," "tea" is the adjective modifying "cup." The third definition of "of" from Merriam-Webster states:

["of" is] used as a function word to indicate the component material, parts, or elements or the contents • throne of gold • cup of water

Thus, "warm" is still modifying "cup" in the phrase "a warm cup of tea."