a measure even more reliable than...

Li'l Bull

Senior Member
Spanish (Spain)
Hi, native speakers of English!

I've just heard the following on a BBC video entitled 'Leap second: what does it mean?':

But time has been under scrutiny since the development of the first clock technology that gave us a measure even more reliable than the earth itself.

My question is about the position of "even more reliable" after "measure". Would it have been possible to say "... gave us an even more reliable measure than ..."?

Why is "even more reliable" after the noun in the original, since the default word order in English is adjective + noun?

Thank you in advance.
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The general principle is that an adjective phrase follows its noun if the adjective phrase consists of an adjective followed by modifiers of its own:

    a measure [based on the vibrations of caesium]
    a measure [even more reliable than the earth itself]
    a measure [devised by scientists]

    We can't do it the German way and put the whole adjective phrase in front:

    :cross:a [based on the vibrations of caesium] measure
    :cross:an [even more reliable than the earth itself] measure
    :cross:a [devised by scientists] measure

    However, we can sometimes split the phrase in two, and place only the relative clause part of it on the right:

    an [even more reliable] measure [than the earth itself]

    Li'l Bull

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain)
    Thanks, entangledbank. :) Your explanation was clear and enlightening.

    I may be out of my depth here (I'm sure my knowledge of English grammar is nowhere near as solid as yours) but your examples have made me wonder whether all these constructions aren't really relative sentences which have been shortened:

    a measure (which is) based...
    a measure (which is) even more reliable...
    a measure (which is) devised...

    Another question I have now is: are "based" and "devised" adjectives or past participles? (if we assume the constructions above are relative clauses, "is based on" and "are devised by" definitely look like passives, don't they?).


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Well they're not relative clauses, because they're not clauses, though they are of course equivalent to them. And it doesn't depend on being headed by some kind of participle, because the same rule applies to ordinary adjectives:

    a bucket full of warm water / :cross:a full of warm water bucket / :thumbsdown: a full bucket of warm water
    a coupon worth £10 [if 'worth' can be called an ordinary adjective!]
    curtains mouldy with age

    Li'l Bull

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain)
    Thanks again, entangledbank. I think I understand now.

    In your example "a bucket full of warm water", I understand from your second post that [full of warm water] is an adjective phrase after the noun "bucket" - is that correct?

    But which is the noun phrase, "[a bucket]" alone or "[a bucket [full of warm water]]" (containing the adjective phrase "full of warm water")?


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Well, I don't know, and I can't think how to test it, and I'm going home now. I think, on theoretical grounds, I would probably say that the specifier 'a' is the outermost branch of the whole noun phrase, with the adjective phrase inside that branching. I would also say this for integrated (defining) relative clauses. Thus:

    a [bucket [full of warm water]]
    a [bucket [in the corner]]
    a [bucket [sitting in the corner]]
    a [bucket [which was sitting in the corner]]

    But the grammatical difference between integrated and non-integrated relative clauses is that the latter are attached at a higher level, outside the full noun phrase:

    [[a bucket], [which was sitting in the corner]],

    However, this is getting into more theoretical considerations than I can justify at this time in the afternoon.
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