What is a modified noun?
As per the title, I'm seeing this phrase come up more and more but I'm having difficulty understand what it really means. Most of the resources I've found seem to be talking about modified nouns in English which seems to be very different from the modified nouns I've been seeing here. (Ones modified by articles for example).
Unmodified noun (no determiner)
Il est avocat. (He's a lawyer.)
Elle est actrice. (She's an actress.)
C'est un avocat. (He's a lawyer.)
C'est une bonne actrice. (She's a good actress.)
Additionally: determiners about.com
But possibly a native French speaker might be needed to give more of an insight.
Yep, that's basically it. A modified noun is a noun that has a modifier, usually an article or adjective.
That definition is circular. It doesn't really explain what it means to be modified and why this is an important distinction...because it matters for a number of grammatical rules. I'd like to know some of the reasoning behind it.
Il est avocat. - C'est une avocat. - The meanings of both of the sentences is exactly the same.
Using a profession after être or devenir is one of the rare situations where a modifier isn't needed in front of a noun, because professions (and also nationalities and religious affiliations) can act as adjectives in French. So basically, modified nouns are the norm. Unmodified nouns are highly unusual.
The choice between modified and unmodified noun is based on limitations imposed by your sentence structure, not by the intended meaning of the noun. For instance, if you want to add an adjective (e.g. c'est une bonne actrice), then you have no choice but to use the modified form.
Also, if you want to further specify about the profession, then you must use the modified form.
- Tu es un juge respecté par tous. — You are a judge respected by all.
- Il veut devenir un professeur pour adultes. — He wants to become a teacher for adults.
Rumnraisin got it right. Il est avocat / elle est actrice is more general. When you use the modified noun "c'est un avocat / c'est une bonne actrice", you are talking about one very person and insisting on the fact that this person is a lawyer / is a good actress.