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What role is the word "apple" playing in the sentence "I ate the apple pie." Is apple an adjective? Or are apple and pie treated together as one noun. Is this true of all words used like this? Can "foot" be used as an adjective if I refer to someone as "that foot guy?" Thanks!

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One of the roles of nouns is that they may be used (in many cases) to premodify other nouns - thus plum / cherry / apple / potato / cheese and onion pie. Football manager. But I've never heard of a tiddlywinks manager - have you? (Actually, Google gives a few tongue-in-cheek hits. What about shove ha'penny manager?) –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 10 '13 at 21:25
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This is a better duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/q/135 –  tchrist Aug 10 '13 at 23:57
    
Sorry! I was scouring the internet for those threads but couldn't find them! Should I delete this post? –  Josh Aug 11 '13 at 0:37
    
@Josh No, don’t delete it. We’ll mark it as a duplicate and others will be more apt to find these when they next search. –  tchrist Aug 11 '13 at 0:38
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From the new tag wiki I just made: “A noun adjunct, also called an attributive noun, is when one noun is used to give an attribute to another noun, like dog catcher, dog food, house sitter, heart surgery, running shoes, employee compensation, and Peter Principle. It is an alternative to a prepositional phrase, like food for dogs or surgery of the heart. A predicate test can be used to distinguish a noun adjunct from an adjective.” –  tchrist Aug 11 '13 at 0:39
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marked as duplicate by tchrist, Mitch, Mari-Lou A, MετάEd, p.s.w.g Aug 11 '13 at 17:35

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From the new tag wiki I just made:

A noun adjunct, also called an attributive noun, is when one noun is used to give an attribute to another noun, like dog catcher, dog food, house sitter, heart surgery, running shoes, employee compensation, and Peter Principle. It is an alternative to a prepositional phrase, like food for dogs or surgery of the heart. A predicate test can be used to distinguish a noun adjunct from an adjective.

That’s just the summary. I, or someone, should get around to writing the full article some time.

By predicate test, I mean when you try to use the first word as the predicate of be. Here’s how to do that:

  • running water: The water is running. Is the water running?
  • running shoes: The shoes are running. Are the shoes running?

Then of course there’s running scared, which is something else again.

Notice how the first one succeeds but the second one fails. That’s because in the second case it is a gerund (a noun) not a participle (an adjective) like in the first case.

Another way to tell a noun from an adjective in this position is by stress. Adjectives are not stressed, but nouns are. With racing horse, you can do it both ways: one as an unstressed adjective (a racing horse) if the horse is racing down the path, and the other as a stressed noun (a racing horse) is the horse that’s been bred for racing.

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I don’t think it’s accurate to say that adjectives are not stressed, but rather that in adjective + noun compounds, both constituents are treated as separate entities and receive main stress, while noun adjunct + noun compounds are treated as compound words and receive only one main stress. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 11 '13 at 7:40
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Addressing the second question, whether any noun may be inserted before any second noun as an attributive noun, I'm sure you're not going to find a simple rule (eg only those beginning with a letter in the first half of the alphabet) - even a more logical-looking one.

Some combinations just wouldn't make sense (though they may be used in fun, as with tiddlywinks manager): foot snail / foot wardrobe / toad hide. Contrast inchworm / footstool / snakeskin (and notice that some combinations progress to solid compounds).

To see whether a pairing is in common use, good modern dictionaries (for compounds) and works on collocations need to be consulted. A Google search may well give reasonable clues.

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Yes. An adjective is a word modifying a noun. Here, "apple" modifies the noun "pie"; therefore, "apple" is functioning as an adjective.

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This is not correct. Please see tchrist’s answer above. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 11 '13 at 7:41
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Also, though an adjective is arguably always a word used to modify (used in preference to 'describe' - it's the referent that is usually described) a noun (with say 'former', 'fake', 'mere', one has to really search for a noun one can consider 'modified' unless one stretches the meaning of the term), a word used to modify a noun may be something other than an adjective. –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 11 '13 at 8:36
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It is a nominal adjective. It acts almost like a noun.

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This is not correct. A nominal adjective is something else entirely: it is when an adjective acts as a noun phrase on its own (“out with the old, in with the new ”, for example), without any explicit noun to modify. This is the opposite situation where a noun modifies another noun, becoming embedded in the noun phrase. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 11 '13 at 7:43
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