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Nouns Used as Adjectives (How They Work and Why + Examples)

Why can some nouns get used as adjectives? How does that work? The English language has an intriguing way when it classifies words. Words are organized by their functions and purpose. These are parts of speech. Some parts of speech may act like other parts, like nouns used as adjectives are common.

Words acting as other words (nouns as adjectives)

When considering parts of speech, the words. “noun”, “adjective”, verb”, etc. come to mind. It is possible to find words classified under a part of speech group acting as words from another group. Consequently, a noun may act as a verb, like with the word “impact”.

Note the following:

  • Something has an impact on something else – “Impact” is a noun
  • Something impacts something else – “Impact” is a verb

In a similar way that a noun may act as a verb, nouns used as adjectives are common in English.

What is a noun?

Before discovering how nouns used as adjectives in English work, the definition of a noun is necessary. A noun is a word used for the identification of a person, a place, or a thing.

Consequently, examples are:

So, nouns are names of places and things. They could be names of countries, shops, animals, oceans, continents, and anything else.

What is an adjective?

Nouns used as adjectives can be hard to identify if adjectives are not understood properly. So, what is an adjective? Like a noun, this is a part of speech in English. It is any word that gives a noun an attribute. In the simplest way, an adjective is a word used to describe a noun.

For example:

  • Golden hair
  • Brown shirt
  • Happy child
  • Beautiful flower
  • Perfect Paris
  • Rapid waves

The functions of words

In English, it is often said that an adjective is used to modify a noun. That is, an adjective is used to describe a quality that any noun possesses.

For instance, with the following sentence:

  • You drink a glass of hot milk.

the adjective is “hot” and the noun that it modifies or describes is “tea”. Now, what if the example changes to “lemon tea” Lemon is a noun. Nonetheless, here, it’s used to modify “tea”.

The way nouns used as adjectives work can be seen here.

Nouns used as adjectives

The English language functions with nouns used as adjectives with regularity. When this is the case, nouns used as adjectives have the purpose of modifying other nouns.

For example:

  • The man drives a race car.
  • Sheila is a history teacher.
  • My mother made a loaf of milk bread.

In all three sentences above, the main noun is at the conclusion of the sentence as the words, car, teacher, and bread. The words before these words, placing attributes to the nouns, are, on their own, nouns themselves.

However, when the words race, history, and milk occur before the nouns, they act to describe them. This means that they act as adjectives. In English, such nouns are “attributive nouns“.

Rules for attributive nouns

When nouns used as adjectives occur in English, there may be some of these words that occur differently.

View the examples below:

  • She drives a race car.
  • Peter drives a sports car.

In the first example, the word “race” is singular. In the next sentence, the word “sports” is plural. Why is this so? Is there a reason for some attributive nouns to be written as singular words and others to be indicated as plural words?

There are no such rules in English, and most attributive nouns are singular. Nevertheless, there are some attributive nouns that have simply evolved this way (in the plural) due to the course of the language being spoken.

Here are some examples of this:

  • Ladies room
  • Women leaders
  • Arts degree (a college degree in the field of humanities)
  • Benefits office
  • Arms race

It is important to note that some words are the same but occur as singular and plural in different circumstances. For instance, “an art degree” indicates the completion and certification of a course in fine art.


1. What is a noun used as an adjective called in English?

A noun used as an adjective is also called an “attributive noun” in English.

2. What is a noun used as an adjective?

A noun used as an adjective is simply a noun used to describe another noun. A noun that modifies another noun is such a noun.


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About the author

Dalia Y.: Dalia is an English Major and linguistics expert with an additional degree in Psychology. Dalia has featured articles on Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, Grammarly, and many more. She covers English, ESL, and all things grammar on GrammarBrain.

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