I'm reading the Wikipedia page on garden-path sentences. One example is:

The government plans to raise taxes were defeated.

What class of word is government in this sentence?

I read this sentence as having the subject noun "plans". "Government" describes the noun, which would make it an adjective. I thought that the adjective form of "government" was "governmental".

The sentence may imply ownership of the plans by the government (as opposed to describing the type of plans, distinct from council plans or building plans). In this case, I would have written it as "the government's plans...".

Either way, I'm unsure how to determine whether the given sentence is grammatically correct. Assuming it is, what class of word is government?

[Slightly separate question: what's the correct term for "the class of word", such as 'adjective', 'noun'? Had issues phrasing my question without knowing this.]

  • 1
    The part of speech (or lexical class) of government is an attributive noun. See this ELU question and this one on ELL, also linked there. – Andrew Leach May 14 '13 at 14:16
  • Informally, the word 'government' is modifying the object 'plans'...what kind of plans are they? They are plans made by the government. The label of part of speech is contentious. Is it a noun or is it an adjective? Well, it is usually called some kind of noun that acts like an adjective (e.g. Andrews 'attributive noun'. – Mitch May 14 '13 at 14:22
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    Interestingly, until quite recently attributive noun meant 'adjective'. The Classical Eight Parts of Speech (Partes Orationis) included Noun but not Adjective ("Participle" made up the difference, but it has slipped from the approved list recently), because adjectives behaved just like nouns as far as the Romans were concerned -- same endings, same uses, etc. To the extent they distinguished between them, they called them Nomen Adjectivum, a translation of Greek onoma epitheton 'attributive name'. – John Lawler May 14 '13 at 14:32
  • Now the canon requires that there be a difference between the Noun and the Adjective, and we find ourselves once more saddled with terminology like "attributive noun" to refer to Official nouns who are behaving like they were Official adjectives, and confusing students once again. – John Lawler May 14 '13 at 14:34
  • Possible duplicate of: What is the word that denotes the words preceding these nouns? Note that noun adjectives appear to be used more now than in the past; excessive use of noun adjectives is generally advised against by style books. As to your example, I agree with Bill. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica May 14 '13 at 14:38

The word government in the example sentence is a noun that functions as an adjective. It's typical native-speaker usage. The reason that it's a garden-path sentence is that at first glance, the reader will most likely think that the subject of the sentence is government and that the main verb of the sentence is plans.

The sentence is grammatical, but it's awkward because it initially confuses the reader, who has to stop and reread to parse the sentence. This is a mark of poor style.

To avoid the the garden path, the sentence should be changed to read:

The government's plans to raise taxes were defeated.

Governmental plans to raise taxes were defeated.

isn't a really good option despite its grammaticality. It sounds bad to me and will probably not be appealing to most native Anglophones.

The rule about part of speech (POS) is that words don't change POS, but some words are classified as both adverbs and adjectives, for example, as is the case with loud and fast.

More important than what POS a word is, is how the word functions in a particular context. What does it do? is a more important question than What part of speech is it?

  • 1
    Great critique although I think the OP knows about garden-pathology. But there's no answer to the question here. – Andrew Leach May 14 '13 at 14:26
  • @Andrew: I like that "garden-pathology" coinage. :-) A sense of humor is a good thing to have. – user21497 May 14 '13 at 14:34

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