1

If I am writing a sentence where both a noun and an adjective are used as modifiers, shall I write first the adjective, or the noun?

It's a nice C code snippet.
(?) It's a C nice code snippet.

Is the same "rule" valid for the following sentence?

Reserved SQL keywords are written in uppercase.
SQL reserved keywords are written in uppercase.

4

In all of the cases that you mention above, the noun in apposition should come nearest to the head noun.

It's a nice C code snippet.

Reserved SQL keywords are written in uppercase.

This example is completely ungrammatical:

! It's a C nice code snippet. [Incorrect]

Your second example is grammatical both ways, but there is a subtle difference in meaning, because the sentences are parsed in different ways:

{Reserved {SQL keywords}} are written in uppercase.

{{SQL reserved} keywords} are written in uppercase.

Because nouns must appear closer to the head than adjectives, the entire phrase "SQL reserved" in the second example is parsed as a noun phrase modifying "keywords".

  • 1
    I would parse the second sentence as: "{SQL {reserved keywords}} are written in uppercase." - to get "SQL" to join "reserved" you'd have to hyphenate them... – psmears Jan 21 '11 at 22:37
  • I'm not sure, but I don't think this is an example of apposition. My understanding in that nouns in apposition refer to the same thing, while in this case "C" has the function of specifying the type of code snippet. I would call it an attributive noun. (I also agree with psmears that "{SQL {reserved keywords}}" seems like a possible parse.) – herisson Feb 1 '17 at 17:37
-1

In your example "It's a nice C code snippet", the only modifier is the adjective "nice", and that modifies the noun "C code snippet". In turn, "C code snippet" is a compound noun made by combining the noun "C code" and the noun "snippet". In turn, "C code" is a compound noun made by combining the noun "C" and the noun "code".

That is, using catagory labels with left square brackets, we have the noun phrase "a nice C code snippet" with the structure

[NP [Det a] [Adj nice] [N [N [N C] [N code]] [N snippet]]]  

Since usually compound words have most stress on the first element while phrases have more stress on the last element, the above structure for this noun phrase predicts that "nice" will have less stress than the following noun "C code snippet", while "C" has more stress than "code", and "C code" has more stress than "snippet". I believe this is correct.

The first parts of compound nouns are sometimes said to be adjectives, but although the interpretation of the compound may suggest this, I think it's wrong. Grammatically, in these examples at least, "C" and "C code" are nouns. You can't have compound nouns containing an adjective modifying a following noun; that would be a phrase rather than a word. Your example "! It's a C nice code snippet. [Incorrect]" is bad because the adjective "nice" cannot go inside the compound noun "C code".

  • Just a question, since you call "C code snippet" a compound noun, what terminology would you use to distinguish it from words like "madman" or "longboat" that do seem to contain an adjective and a noun? – herisson Feb 1 '17 at 17:35
  • @sumelic, "madman" and "longboat" are also compounds, as the stress on the first element shows. Of course, the noun phrases "a mad man" and "a long boat" are also possible, with different stress and slightly different interpretation. – Greg Lee Feb 1 '17 at 17:47
  • Don't they have to be different types of compounds, though? You said "You can't have compound nouns containing an adjective modifying a following noun; that would be a phrase rather than a word," but I think "village madman" and "Viking longship" are both valid. Why are they possible while "C nice code snippet" is not? – herisson Feb 1 '17 at 18:02
  • @sumelic, I'm not sure. Maybe because there's no such thing as "nicecode". Or maybe I was wrong to say "C nice code snippet" is not possible -- maybe it is just hard to find an interpretation for. – Greg Lee Feb 1 '17 at 21:20

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