I am currently working through allowable part of speech combinations for the first two words of an English sentence. It seems troubling to me to allow the first two words of a sentence to both be nouns, but that may well be valid. One such circumstance is with compound nouns where it is rendered as two separate words (I am neglecting hyphenated and one-word versions here).

If I were to have the following sentence:

Tea time is at 3:00 every afternoon.

I would naturally think of time as a noun of course, but I might describe tea as an adjective in this case.

So which combinations of parts of speech can a compound noun take and how would one distinguish which is the correct labeling for the compound noun?

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    I'm afraid that no information can be gained from a listing of the allowable POS combinations for "the first two words of an English sentence." The first two words can be just about anything, given the way English syntax changes word order. If you were looking at Constituents instead of just two words, you might get somewhere. But the first two words have nothing useful to offer. Sorry. Apr 4, 2013 at 14:45
  • I am more tolerant of the analysis and classification of individual words in structures than John Lawler is, but admit that it does get very messy when say the compound noun particle board is classified quite differently from its hyphenated and closed variants particle-board and particleboard (all in use). Teatime is usually solid, but I'd class tea bag as a compound noun also. Both are formed from a noun + noun combination of free morphemes. I wouldn't class store manager as a compound noun, but would class store here as as a 'noun modifier'. Apr 4, 2013 at 18:27
  • Check the structure and range of English compounds at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_compound and noun modifiers at learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/adjectives/… etc. Also, on lexical items rather than words as being the true 'building blocks of English' at wordnik.com/words/lexical%20item Apr 4, 2013 at 18:29
  • Not compound nouns, but lists can start sentences with 2 or more nouns - "Ham, cheese and tomato are good ingredients for a sandwich."
    – Mynamite
    Apr 4, 2013 at 22:36
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    @demongolem I would not consider sensible any analysis that did not treat the 'Bacon and eggs' in Bacon and eggs are expensive in Elbonia (or Eggs and bacon are expensive in Elbonia) as three tokens, but in Bacon and eggs is my favourite breakfast as unitary. Apr 5, 2013 at 22:55

1 Answer 1


English can use attributive noun phrases in place of many expressions with "of." For example, "her box of poems" can become "her poem box". Linguists don't like to model this by saying that poem has become an adjective because of the way they interact with real adjectives. E.g. "Her Elizabethan poetry box." Even without the hyphen, most readers just can't accept that Elizabethan modifies box. So "Poem boxes lined her shelves" would indeed begin with two nouns, if you follow that model.

  • That’s exactly right. This is a noun–noun combination. Just becomes adjectives modify nouns does not mean that all words that modify nouns are necessarily adjectives. They aren’t.
    – tchrist
    Aug 30, 2013 at 22:22

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