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In case of the need to describe the color of a crown which is shown as part of an image, which is correct: a golden crown, or a gold crown?

Is it important if it is made of gold or not, but the color is gold?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

Most gold crowns are golden, but not all golden crowns are made of gold.

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It seems they’re largely interchangeable. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 35 records for gold crown and 29 for golden crown. The figures for the British National Corpus are 8 and 6. The Oxford English Dictionary, however, has 6 citations for gold crown and 10 for golden crown. This nGram shows an earlier preference for golden crown, but with little difference apparent from about 1960 onwards.

A coin, rather than royal headwear, will, I suspect, generally be a gold crown rather than a golden crown.

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@tchrist: Indeed. I possess several. – Barrie England Sep 8 '12 at 11:47
I've seen it both ways, but in some older writing "golden" seems to be how they liked to describe coins. – Robusto Sep 8 '12 at 16:36

The Collins Cobuild Dictionary shows two meanings for golden:

  1. Something that is golden is bright yellow in colour. (ADJ)

  2. Golden things are made of gold. (ADJ)

While they may appear to be fungible, people who choose their words carefully would probably use gold to indicate made of gold and golden to indicate bright yellow in colour.

Elvis Presley sang “Wooden Heart (Muss I Den)” in the 1960 movie G.I. Blues. Here are two relevant lines:

  • ’Cause I’m not made of wood

  • And I don’t have a wooden heart

They suggest that even with the ‑en ending, it means “made of wood”, which it wouldn’t in a sentence like “He delivered a wooden performance on opening night.”

Collins Cobuild says “Wooden objects are made of wood”. I agree that that’s how people use it, whether literally (e.g., wooden table and wooden chair) as well as figuratively (wooden performance).

But unlike when wood and wooden are used literally, I don’t think that golden and gold are fungible like that. They’re only sometimes synonyms, which means that they aren’t always interchangeable, merely largely interchangeable. A golden crown is not necessarily a crown made of gold, just a crown the color of gold. But a gold crown is necessarily a crown made of gold.

However, because there is something called “white gold”, an alloy of gold and nickel and which sometimes contains palladium or zinc, a gold crown isn't necessarily yellow. Context should tell the reader or listener whether golden or gold is being used literally or metaphorically.

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I agree with the downvoter. If somebody talks about a "gold Cadillac", it will almost certainly not be made of gold. For that, you have to say solid gold Cadillac. Google returns tons of hits for "gold Cadillac Deville" and very few for "golden Cadillac Deville"; gold is a color as well as a metal. – Peter Shor Sep 8 '12 at 12:26
+1 for effort :) – coleopterist Sep 8 '12 at 13:36
Good point, Peter, but I don't believe I or the OP mentioned a "gold Cadillac", just a "gold crown". When talking about cars, one normally thinks color names refer to the paint and not the material or status (idiomatic usage): a blue Ford isn't sad, a red Ford isn't angry, a yellow Ford isn't cowardly, a green Ford isn't envious, and a rainbow Ford is surely multicolored and not homosexual or otherwise culturally diverse. A "gold crown", OTOH, is ambiguous unless context indicates color or material. But this distinction is important only to those who care about the words they use. – user21497 Sep 8 '12 at 14:12
Verbose answers are of grate value, including your answer, but sometimes there is a shorter answer that pinpoints the idea avoiding irrelevant issues. I read all answers and comments and decided to use: a golden crown. As I specifically asked, I need to make a description of the color of a presented crown image. I came into a conclusion that for the color description requirement it is not important if the crown is made of gold or not. Thank you for your grate answer, you've got my upvote. – elarrow Sep 8 '12 at 15:38

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