Nouns as Modifiers 

Modify a noun with a noun

office chair
 

 

Noun Modifiers vs. Phrase or Clause Modifiers

MODIFYING NOUN — NOUN

The same meaning can be expressed with a noun placed before the noun.

PRE-POSITION MODIFIER

space2 office modifies chair
It is an office chair (a chair for an office)  

May I have a soup spoon.  (a spoon for soup)

Ring the door bell. (the bell of the door)

It is a picnic table.   (a table for a picnic)

He rides a mountain bike (a bike for mountains)

He is an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent (an agent of the IRS)

*He is a Kyoto man(a Kyotan, Kyoto-ite?)  (a man from Kyoto)

 

NOUN + MODIFYING PHRASE OR CLAUSE

A noun can be modified by a phrase or clause placed after the noun.

POST POSITION MODIFIER

space2 office modifies chair
It is a chair for an office(PP) 

May I have a spoon that is for soup.   (Cls)

Ring the bell that is next to the door.  (Cls)

It is a table for picnics. (PP) 

He rides a bike that was designed for the mountains. (Cls)

He is an agent of the Internal Revenue Service a tax man (PP) 

He is a man from Kyoto(PP + proper noun)

 

*incorrect use   See Nationalities for specific terms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Word Form

Mostly Singular

sports car
 

 

Exceptional Word Forms

PLURAL  /  WORD FORM ENDS IN "S"

In these words, the final "s" is part of the lexical base of the word.

It is a sports magazine / car.     (Indicates variety)

We attended a jobs fair (Indicates variety)

The measles¹ outbreak made several children sick.

*We went to a vegetables market. 

SINGULAR NOUN MODIFIER

More commonly, a singular noun modifies a noun.

I bought a sport-utility vehicle. (other "sport" words)

I have a job interview today.

 

We went to a vegetable market.  

 

*incorrect usage.

¹Related page Irreg Agreement (Words ending in -s that are singular in agreement)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyphens

Linking modifiers to a noun

 

 

 

Single vs Double-noun Modifiers

SINGLE NOUN MODIFIER

A hyphen is not used when one noun is a modifier to another noun .

NO HYPHEN

He applied for a director position.

The train station is closed.   train (n.) modifies station (n.)

Lake Tahoe is on the Nevada border.   Nevada (n.) modifies border (n.)

FOR CLARITY    (noun → noun–noun)

We bought two foot stools.   two (det.) modifies foot (n.) which modifies stools (n.)

DOUBLE-NOUN MODIFIER

Two modifiers are linked with a hyphen to indicate relationship: (1) to link two words of equal importance, (2) to link two words modifying a noun that follows.

FOR EQUAL IMPORTANCE  (noun–noun → noun)

He applied for a producer-director position

The Menlo-Atherton train station is closed.

Lake Tahoe is on the California-Nevada border.
 

FOR CLARITY    (noun–noun → noun)

We bought two-foot stools.  See Hyphens.

 

 

*In linguistic description, two is a determiner "two chairs", or a noun "They came in twos." (Huddleston 5.7.6)
See Hyphens for details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nouns as Modifiers

Relative Meanings

(Advanced)

 

 

 

OPINION / WORTH NATURAL QUALITY OF / BELONGS TO / FROM INSTRUMENT / FUNCTION

In some cases, a noun modifier may express an opinion of the following noun.

A noun modifier may also indicate material, origin or source of the following noun.

A noun modifier may also express a possessive  (temporary) relationship.

A noun modifier often expresses a functional relationship—an instrument for the noun.

NOUNS AS MODIFIERS      

He's a boy scout.  (perhaps too young)

He's a boy scout.  (a youth)

He is a boy scout leader.  (The scout leader helps boys.)

It's a metal spoon.  (adj. / n., substance)

It's a soup spoon.

It's a dog bone.  We have some better ones for us to eat.  (bad quality not fit for human consumption)

It's a dog bone.  This must be a burial site of a canine.  (source, osseous )

It's a dog bone.  (It belongs to our dog.)

He's a Harvard man. (educated, upper-class, or intelligent)

He's a Harvard man. (an alumnus of Harvard University)

 

It's a brick house.  (strong)

It's a brick house.  (material)

It's a State house.  (It is owned and managed by the state.)

It's a brick house.  (We use it for storing bricks.)

PARTICIPLES AS MODIFIERS      

Let sleeping dogs lie.  (troublesome)

It's a sleeping bag.  (We use it for camping.)

It's a [spotted / spotty] record. (not a good performance review)

It's a spotted owl.  (has spots on its feathers)

 

Also see Participle Modifiers 2 ambiguities.

"Let sleeping dogs lie."  – leave things as they are to avoid potential conflict or trouble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional and Linguistic Description

 

 

 

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions

TRADITIONAL & ESL DESCRIPTION LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

In traditional grammar, the above grammar focus is described as "a noun used as an adjective".

"When a noun is used as an adjective, it is in its singular form…. When a noun used as a modifier is combined with a number expression, the noun is singular and a hyphen is used."  Nouns as Adjectives (Azar 7-3)

 

 

Current linguistic analysis describes the examples above as "nouns used as attributive modifiers". That is to say, a "noun" cannot be an "adjective" (a grammatical class) but it can be a "modifier" (a grammatical function). Because it occurs before the head noun, it is called a "pre-head modifier".  (Huddleston 4.2.2-3, 5 §14.2)

"Attributive nouns fail to qualify as adjectives by virtue of the grading and adverbial dependents criteria.  They don't take very or too or the analytic comparative marker more as modifier."  — Nouns as Attributive Modifiers (Huddleston 16.2.4.1)

fresh cheese cake is delicious.

Both fresh (adj) and cheese (n) function as modifiers to the noun cake.  The noun phrase (NP) "A fresh cheese cake" functions as the subject of the clause.

 

Many common ideas in English are expressed by noun + noun compounds. The first noun is singular and no article is included. The second noun may be plural and may include an article (if it is a count noun) a horse race /  some horse races.

The first noun modifies or describes the second noun: 

(1) the first noun classifies the second noun: (tells which kind)

  • milk chocolate (a kind of chocolate)  / chocolate milk ( a kind of milk)
  • a horse race (a kind of race) / a race horse (a kind of horse)

(2) the second noun is the subject of the first noun: ("for")

  • a shoe shop  (a shop that sells shoes; a shop for shoes)
  • a tooth brush (a brush that cleans teeth; a brush for teeth)

(3) the second noun is a container for the first noun:

  • a coffee can / cup
  • a soap dish / box

(4) first noun indicates the material of the second noun:

  • a gold ring / a silver ring
  • a paper flower / a silk flower

(Swan 385-6)

Ambiguous pairs occur:  a baby doctor (a young  doctor, a kind of doctor); a baby store (a store that sells babies, a store for baby goods)

Grammatical Functions: Subject – (Subj) the agent of the action; Predicate/Predicator – (Pred) the action or change in state; Complement – Comp  –  an element required to complete the subject and predicate; Adjunct – an element not required by the verb, a modifying word, phrase, clause; Supplement – a comment in the form of a word, phrase or clause that is loosely related to the central idea of the sentence.

Lexical Categories "Parts of Speech": N – noun / pronoun; NP – noun phrase; V – verb; VP – verb phrase; Adj – adjective; AdjP – adjective phrase; Adv – adverb; AdvP – adverb phrase; P – preposition; PP – prepositional phrase; Detdeterminers –  noun markers (e.g., articles, quantifiers, demonstratives, possessives); Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator; Interj – interjection; INF – infinitive: GER – gerund; Nonfinite: an infinitive or gerund clause

 

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Names of things

 

 

 

Complete the word form.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 1-15" button at the bottom.

 

1.
car keys

2.
baseball and bat

3.
tablecloth

4.
keys

5.
dog with bone

6.
mouse

7.
tree house

8.
slippers

9.
ladder

10.
dessert plate

11.
watermelonIn the summer, a trucks that is filled with watermelons comes to our town.

12.

13.
house planThis is the

14.
handbook

15.
dinner with five courses

course (n.) – separate part or dish of a meal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Gerunds and Nouns as Modifiers to Nouns

 

 

 

Select the correct word order.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or "check 16-25" button.

 

16.
park for baseball

17.
light for a street

18.
a lace for shoes

19.
clip for hair

20.
line for telephones

21.
walking shoes

22.
fisherman

23.
wedding dress

24.
hand out of water

25.
shooting gallery duck