The Blessed Noun Adjunct

Nossa dica de hoje foi escrita pela prof. Kristen Hammer. Depois de falar sobre os usos e significados da palavra “bitch”, dessa vez ela nos fala sobre um assunto que confunde muito estudante de inglês (para aprender e usar) e também os falantes nativos de inglês (que podem não entender se você não falar corretamente). O texto está em inglês, mas você pode ler a tradução clicando aqui. Espero que gostem!

There is a part of speech that might seem boring and insignificant, but is causing tons of complications for learners of English! The lack of knowledge in how to use it actually hinders communication.  It is called the “noun adjunct”, aka “noun modifier”, “attributive noun”, “noun pre-modifier”, or “noun + noun”.  Yikes! Quite a mouthful!

First, let me define this wonderful part of speech:  the noun adjunct is simply a noun that modifies or describes another noun and is, grammatically speaking, totally optional! This means that it can be removed from the sentence without changing the grammar. It is a noun which functions like an adjective. An example is in the sentence “I would like to have carrot cake for my birthday”. Carrot describes what kind of cake. As I’m sure you know by now, in English, our adjectives go before the noun instead of after the noun. In the sentence, “Would you please close the bedroom door for me? Can you identify what, exactly, you would open?  Would you open the bedroom? Or the door to the bedroom? – The door is correct.

I’m going to complicate this a bit. YAY!  In the word “bedroom” we have a noun adjunct here, too. Yep!  Here, the word “bed” is describing the type of room. It doesn’t make a difference if the compound noun is spelled in one or two parts.


So now let’s get to the fun part. Because of this little tadinho of the noun adjunct, we have many, many difficulties for not only the student trying to speak English, but also for the native speaker who is trying to understand what you are saying!  This has happened to me so many times and totally confuses and frustrates me. (as a native speaker)

Last year I was teaching advanced English for a group of teen-agers.  During our conversation period in the class, one of the girls asked me the question: “Kristen, do you like skate?”   Well, the sentence didn’t make any sense to me and I asked her to repeat it. Hmmm, I still had no idea what she meant because it really makes no sense!  [In English, a skate is one shoe of a pair of shoes you use to ice-skate or roller-skate.]   So she was asking me if I like one shoe of the set!?   Secondly, even if she used the plural of skate (skates)…it still wouldn’t make sense because no one really asks if you LIKE the skates…its just an odd question..  When I finally got her to explain what she was trying to say, it was, “Kristen, do you like to skateboard?”. She took the first part of the word, which simply defines it, and entirely skipped the main part! Now you might say, “but in Brazil, skate is the word we use for skateboard, so she was correct”.  But NO it is not correct because she was speaking English…and using an English word.

Another example was when I went back home to the States to visit my family. A friend of mine (a Brazilian woman) asked me to buy her something from “Bed Bath & Beyond”, a store that sells kitchen and bedroom things. The item she wanted was called a “dish drying mat”, and in the photo she printed out for me, was a picture of a dish on top of a rack on top of a mat. She wrote on the picture the word “dish” as to identify what it was that she wanted.  To make a long story short, I bought the dish for her, and when I gave it to her she was confused and disappointed!  What she wanted was the MAT not the DISH!!   Because of this confusion about this dang noun adjunct, she didn’t get what she really wanted from the U.S. 🙁

On another occasion, when I was still living in my beautiful mountain town in the California sierras, I had a different problem understanding someone. Every year thousands of Brazilians go to my town to work at the ski resorts for the winter. Skiing and snowboarding are THE thing to do there.  Anyway, one day a Brazilian friend of mine asked me, “Kristen, do you want to make snow with us today?” this is too weird!!   Only God makes snow!  Haahaha.  But what she meant was “Kristen, do you want to go snowboarding today with us?”  So, again, “boarding” is the main word, and “snow” defines the kind of boarding to be done. The same goes for surfboard, skateboard, sand board…whatever board there may be!

The school where I volunteered last year was called “Secret Place”, but they referred to it as the Secret.  So I tried to think of how to explain to you guys how this really sounds to us (native speakers)… The only thing I can think of is the following:  Someone asks me where I live.. “Onde voce mora..qual estado?” and I answer, “Moro em Santa.”    Does that answer your question?  But if I said “Santa Catarina” I think you would..

So, please, please don’t say to a native speaker that you’re going to “Disney”, because that is just Walt Disney’s last name.  Also, there are two amusement parks with his name: Disneyland is in California, and Disney World is located in Florida.  The word “Disney” just defines them.

If you say “I’m going to see Red Hot”, they won’t understand. But if you say, “I’m going to see the Chili Peppers”, they will.

If you say, “I’m going to the shopping”, they won’t understand. But if you say “I’m going to the shopping mall” or “shopping center”, they will.

If you say, “Let’s put on our make”, they won’t understand. But if you say, “Let’s put on our “make-up”, they will.

If you say, “I’m going to make a “milk”, they won’t understand. But if you say, “I’m going to make a milkshake”, they will.

Just for some practice, try and pick out the noun adjuncts in the sentences:

  • My mom planted a rose bush in the garden.
  • I want to go to school and become a life coach.
  • I bought a new table lamp yesterday.
Tommy takes the school bus to school everyday.
Happy Hour starts at 6pm at the bar.

  • The college ordered new grammar books last week.
That guy makes kitchen tables.
  • I need some product training support.
My friend donated some old baby clothes.

Have fun and see you next time.

11 Comentários

  1. Hi! I noticed two incorrect points in what I wrote: 1) "make-up" doesn't really classify as as noun adjunct example here, but regardless, without the two parts together, it doesn't make any sense. And 2) In the phrase "happy hour"…happy is an adjective, NOT a noun adjunct. It's just that I have heard the sentence, "Let's go to the bar for happy", instead of happy hour. 🙂

  2. Hi KristenVery interesting article. However, I'm not sure I quite understood the example sentences. What are we supposed to do? "Pick out the noun adjuncts?? What do you mean by that?Thanks

  3. Very useful, folks. It's something that confuses my students (and myself, too) a lot. i think things are clearer now!Keep on doing the good work!

  4. I was asking a question about 'modals' on a web site and out of the blue this post reminded me to ask: a modal what? (I knew I was missing something). Then I wrote 'a modal verb'… By the way, I'd like to get more information about Kristen's private classes.I do believe that using or not using a plural word when it comes to talk about this noun adjunt is also a problem for Brazilians English speakers… In Portuguese, when a word goes to plural, almost everything in a sentence goes too, but in English…Thanks a ton, guys!

  5. Gostaria de saber sobre as aulas particulares. Moro em São Paulo e não sei se é possível fazer as aulas via Skype .Aguardo informação meu email é

  6. Eu quero saber sobre as aulas particulares! Gostaria de saber os valores.

  7. I just wanted to mention one more common noun adjunct that everyone seems to use incorrectly… it's FACE. The social network is called "faceBOOK"… "LIVRO de rostos." So when you call it face, you are calling it rostos… which sounds really weird!!. 🙂 I will put my email here for those who want to contact me: kris10dh@hotmail.comand Denilso, it's Kristen, not Karen…heheheehe 🙂

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