Conservation Conversation

Zoos are good places for animals conservation.

This is an example of a noun pre-modifying another noun.

Say what?!

Well, sometimes we have to consider how nouns function within a larger noun phrase.

Come again?!

Well, animal is a noun, and conservation is a noun, but together they form a noun phrase: animal conservation.

So what’s the problem then, Pak Guru?

Well, in this example, the ‘main’ noun is conservation.

What do you mean main noun?

Well, in this example, are you saying that zoos are good for animals or good for conservation?

For.. conservation!

Right, so conservation is the main noun.

I see, so what’s wrong with animals?

OK, well in the example animals is pre-modifying conservation. ‘Pre’ means ‘before’ – the word ‘animals’ comes before the word ‘conservation’, right?

Wait. Did you say ‘modifying’? What’s that?!

Well, the word animals changes (modifies) the word conservation – it tells us exactly what kind of conservation.

OK. But I still don’t see what is wrong with the original sentence.

The problem is.. If you use a countable noun to pre-modify another noun, then that modifying noun (in this case animal) must be singular.

I see. Like ‘Computer scientist?’


The featured image for this post is a photograph of the man who has done more than any other to conserve wildlife, the incredible David Attenborough – here conversing with orang utan.

When to be possessive?

Interacting with many people expands students vision and broadens their horizons.

This is a tricky one! There are many exceptions to the guidelines that follow. First of all let’s compare the following noun phrases:

  1. students vision
    plural noun + noun – is not possible. It is grammatically incorrect.
  2. students’ vision
    plural noun + possessive + noun is possible, meaning particular vision – the vision of the group of students under discussion. This structure is common when the first noun is ‘animate’.
  3. student vision
    singular noun + noun – is also possible, meaning a kind of vision – ‘student vision’ as opposed to, say, ‘teacher vision’. This structure is common when the first noun is ‘inanimate’.

Returning to our opening example, meaning 2 would appear to be the most appropriate:

  • Interacting with many people expands students’ vision and broadens their horizons.

Notice also that we now have a parallel structure with two clauses containing possessives – expands students’ vision, broadens their horizons.