Aren't adverbs related to the closest word? Does nightly in nightly business report refer to business?

I am still confused.
Is relation of non-adverb modifiers different from that of adjective?
In First Certificate Language Practice by Michael Vince the "first" is related to the nearest modified word (without dephis application)

I am not interested in specific case of "Nightly Business Reports" (only), I'd like to understand a rule/pattern with possible exceptions in order to reuse it in my writing.


4 Answers 4


In the case of a list of modifiers, it is generally presumed that all the modifiers apply to the final subject; if one modifier is intended to apply to another modifier in the list, most often they will be joined by a hyphen. Per your example, nobody would assume that the "nightly" in "nightly business report" modifies "business"; if it were supposed to, it would have been written "nightly-business report".


Nightly and business are referred to report.

In the same way, in the following phrase

his prime-time, nightly TV talk show

both nightly and TV are referred to talk show.


"Business report" is a compound noun. Though this word is written with a space in the middle in the English writing system, linguistically speaking, "business report" is one word. This is why we say "the business report" and we can't say "the business the report", "business the report", "daily business interesting report" or anything else like that. "Business report" is a single unit.

Nightly (in the sense you are using it) is an adjective, not an adverb. In any case, it modifies the entire compound noun, "business report". (Adverbs never modify nouns.)

So, the constituency works in this way:

[nightly [business report]]

  • I disagree that it's a compound noun; I think it's just "business" used as an attributive. Neither can you say "business the stapler" or "business interesting stapler"; these are forbidden by constraints on adjective and determiner order, not by any restriction on splitting up "business stapler". In contrast, it is perfectly acceptable to split up "business report" (e.g. "business earnings report", "business and sustainable development report"). Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 1:43
  • @Mechanicalsnail: You aren't splitting "business report" in your examples, you are creating e.g. a compound "business earnings" and then further compounding that into "[business earnings] report". "Earnings" isn't modifying "report" — "business earnings", as a whole, is modifying "report". (The same is true of your other example: [[[business]N and [[sustainable]A [development]N]] report]N)
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 15:39
  • What I meant is that "business report" doesn't seem to be a compound; it's just the sum of its parts: business (attributive) report, i.e. a report which is related to business. To illustrate: I'm sure you agree that "proboscis report" is not a compound. But your examples (e.g. "proboscis the report", "daily proboscis interesting report") are just as ungrammatical as with "business", so they can't be evidence that "business report" is a compound. Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 19:13
  • @Mechanicalsnail: I understand what you meant, but it is a compound noun. I don't, however, understand what you mean about "proboscis report". It is a compound noun too, unless there is something I don't know about the word proboscis. Read the Wikipedia article I linked, at least. On the other hand, something like "amazing report" is not a compound noun, which is why one can think of examples like "amazing, interesting report". And "see report" is also not a compound noun as you can write "see the report". These are called constituency tests.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 17:00
  • A compound noun is defined as a word (lexical item); something like "proboscis report" that's probably never even been said before can't possibly be a word. Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 21:34

I found the comment to recent thread

by @JoseK to answer my question more satisfactorily by giving the reference to on-line grammar rules on usage of Hypens between Words

  • 1
    This doesn't actually have anything to do with "nightly business report", as there is only one adjective in the phrase. Adding a hyphen (i.e. "nightly-business report") would be incorrect under the standard interpretation of this phrase: this is not a report about nightly business, it is a report about business that is created nightly.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Feb 12, 2011 at 3:50

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