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Is there a word for the word being described by an adjective? In other words, the "target" of an adjective. Or, by analogy, "Operators have operands, adjectives have ____."

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

The word modificand exists as a term of art for the thing you are looking for, and means according to the OED, “something that is to be modified.” But it is not particularly common:

A. 1832 Bentham Language Wks. 1843 VIII. 317/2 ― In this way, modificative clauses in any number may be made to precede, and by that means exclusively attach upon one and the same modificand.

The problem with just calling it a noun or noun phrase is that when you have something like

my earlier someone

(Which I would still call an NP, mind you), then the adjective earlier is targeting a pronoun, not a noun, and the possessive determiners my falls in the normal slot in an NP, despite it having a pronoun not a noun at its head.

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That's funny. I initially wrote modificand as a made-up example, but decided to write an analogy instead. Thanks! –  Andrew Cheong Dec 26 '12 at 18:55
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Regard all pronouns as nouns, as some do, and any problem of demarcation disappears. –  Barrie England Dec 26 '12 at 18:57
    
Analogies are more normal than the use of uncommon words. By definition, practically. –  John Lawler Dec 26 '12 at 19:33
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The word is noun or noun phrase.

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It is a noun or noun phrase, but that doesn't describe its relationship to the adjective. –  Jon Hanna Dec 26 '12 at 21:33
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