There are multiple ways a noun can be described by an adjective

  • by a word that is already an adjective (e.g., big, dark, high, low)
  • by a noun (mushroom house)
  • by a participle (running dogs, painted house)

However, I am often confused. Actually not confused, because I believe I see the picture clearer than the normal usage. Anyway, confused over the deployment of a past participle when the noun form is sufficient as the adjective:

  • white-tail deer vs white-tailed deer.
  • red-hair girl vs red-haired girl.
  • bottle-nose dolphin vs bottle-nosed dolphin.

Because, then, why wouldn't we say

  • chickened rice but chicken rice
  • pepper jacked cheese but pepper jack cheese
  • pepperonied pizza but pepperoni pizza
  • yellow-doored house but yellow-door house
  • Intel-Pentiumed PC but Intel-Pentium PC


The more acceptable form is bottle-nose dolphin, not bottle-nosed dolphin. Yet the more acceptable form is white-tailed deer, not white-tail deer.

How unacceptable is it to say

  • red-hair girl
  • white-tail deer
  • bottle-nosed dolphin
  • wet-backed migrant


Why or why not? Do provide examples of other noun vs past participle adjectives.

  • I think you need to check the truth of your assertions. I've just checked one that jarred with me, and I think this Ngram for bottle-nosed dolphin v bottle-nose dolphin strongly suggests that the former is more commonly used. Look up articles on participial/participle (!) adjectives, and attributive nouns, to see where they tend to be used. Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 9:42
  • This is partly covered in this thread (When can a noun be used attributively?). Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 9:56
  • Edwin, should I prefer to quibble over if my examples were accurate to the bone, or should I prefer to quibble over participle vs non-participle adjectives. So please tell me why it is less desirable for me to say yellow-doored house? Why wouldn't more native speakers say red-hair girl, white-tail deer? Is it acceptable to say it contrary to popular practice? Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 10:22
  • It's senseless to try to start discussing why a certain usage is incorrect or less idiomatic if that's actually a false premise. // The topic is very broad, and thus probably off-topic; I'd just suggest one theory: with N M or V'd M (meals; eg chicken soup, plum pie, prawn curry ... // peppered steak, battered fish, curried prawn ...) [1] the -ed form may be unavailable (plummed?) or pretty silly-sounding (chickened?); [2] the -ed version tends to mark the noun modified as the major element of the phrase (thus steak that is battered, but not soup that is chickened). Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 11:12

1 Answer 1


The examples you give have the answer. Where it is a matter of a name (e.g. of a species or product) use the noun construction: bottle-nose dolphin. When it is not, use the verb construction: red-haired girl.

  • 1
    What about white-tailed deer? If you don't give me a reasoned answer for white-tailed deer, I will have to vote you down. Because I feel you have but simply concocted a willy-nilly rule. Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 8:29

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