Suppose I were to say this sentence: "I own a 2003 Ford F-150."

  1. Would 2003 Ford F-150 be a compound proper noun?

  2. Would Ford F-150 be a compound proper noun and 2003 be an adjective?

  3. Would F-150 be a proper noun and 2003 and Ford be adjectives?

  4. Am I way off, and there is some other term for this?

It's been a while since I've taken any sort of grammar course, so I'm admittedly rusty on some specific instances like this. I honestly don't think #3 is the correct answer, as Ford seems like it would definitely be part of the proper noun, but I included it just to be thorough.

  • When you have noun chains like those, each one but the last is an attributive noun, also called a noun adjunct.
    – tchrist
    Jul 22 '14 at 4:28
  • @tchrist Looking at your profile, I see you are a programmer so I can probably explain further what prompted this question. I'm interested in this question because I'm trying to use it as an example to explain Object-Oriented Programming to someone. Typically for introductory examples, you use the noun = Object, adjective = Property, verb = Functions for illustration. I know it's not a perfect analogy but If I have 2003FordF150 extends FordF150, which extended Ford, which extended Vehicle would that make sense? Since properties could vary in different years of a vehicle. Jul 22 '14 at 4:33
  • You could consider asking on the Linguistics question site too. Jul 22 '14 at 5:28
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    All proper names are fixed phrases. Capitalization rules vary, but as long as they can be the subject or the object of a grammatical clause, fixed proper names are Noun Phrases. Jul 28 '14 at 17:08
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    I'm saying you could include it in the proper noun phrase, or not, as you please; proper noun phrases are extremely individual and not subject to grammar rules. Or at least not to ordinary ones; they follow their own rules. Jul 29 '14 at 1:03

"2003 Ford F-150" is a string of adjectives describing a truck. Trademarks are always adjectives, describing a noun by specifying its manufacturer or originator.

As the International Trademark Association puts it:

Trademarks and service marks are proper adjectives. Not nouns. Not verbs. A mark should always be used as an adjective qualifying a generic noun that defines the product or service. A mark is a company brand name, not a product or service itself. -- A Guide to Proper Trademark Use

It's much clearer if you say "2003 Ford F-150 truck" that "truck" is the noun and the other words describe what kind of truck it is. But it's perfectly grammatical to omit the noun when it's clear from context what the noun is.

  • This seems to be the most definitive answer to me, given that this would definitely fall under the scope of a trademark. Thanks. Aug 4 '14 at 4:46

Ford F-150 is the official full name of the car (make + model). Grammatically speaking, it is a compound proper noun:

I own a Ford F-150.

F-150 is an abbreviated version of that name:

I own an F-150.

So is Ford in the following statement (although the designation could refer to any Ford motor car, not just an F-150):

I own a Ford.

In your example sentence

"I own a 2003 Ford F-150",

2003 is an adjective; it is not a necessary element for specifying the type of car, but describes one of its attributes (namely its age).

  • Quick follow up question. There could be vast differences between 2003 and a 2014 making them two entirely different vehicles. Ordering parts for one versus the other can illustrate that. Isn't the year key in identifying the product? To me it seems like 2003 says a lot more about the vehicle than "red" would. I guess I could be splitting hairs here, but I just figured I'd bring it up. Jul 22 '14 at 4:24
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    No, 2003 is a cardinal number, which is something like a special subtype of noun — kinda. It is certainly not an adjective. Ordinal numbers are more likely to be adjectives.
    – tchrist
    Jul 22 '14 at 4:33
  • @DavidStinemetze - Let's assume for the sake of illustrating my point that the 2003 and 2014 models are vastly different from each other, but that model years 2003-2007 are all identical. The essence of the issue you have identified would then be that Ford has continued to use the same name for two completely different vehicles. So in my view, the model year remains an adjective (or determiner, to use the classification applied by many linguists) to describe the car's age, but the meaning of the compound noun Ford F-150 is not the same when comparing a 2003 model to a 2014 model.
    – Erik Kowal
    Jul 22 '14 at 4:39
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    @tchrist - You're muddling up the different categories and uses of numbers. 2003 is a cardinal number if you're counting objects: There are 2003 people in this theatre. It's an ordinal number if you're specifying the position in a sequence: That's the 2003rd time you've told me that. When you're using it to describe the age of something, it's an adjective or determiner.
    – Erik Kowal
    Jul 22 '14 at 4:50
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    It seems like it serves the same function as a color name, e.g. red Ford F-150.
    – Barmar
    Jul 29 '14 at 7:01

Ordinarily, if you're unsure about the part of speech for a portion of a sentence, a good place to start would be to try replacing the portion in question with a section whose POS is known a priori. In this case, both 2003 and Ford seem to be acting like adjectives--as people have mentioned, it feels fine to replace either word with red e.g. red Ford F-150, 2003 red F-150--so the short answer is that in this case both 2003 and Ford are adjectives.

So, it turns out that all F-150s are Ford F-150s, so it feels like Ford is modifying the sentence in a different way than 2003 is, but I would argue that this is a problem of pragmatics, not syntax.

I would give a syntax tree of this sentence, using a simplified grammar, as

I own a 2003 Ford F-150

   Noun Phrase:
   Verb Phrase:
      Transitive Verb:
      Noun Phrase:

This analysis is backed up by Wikipedia in their article on english compounds

  • But couldn't you also say "I drive a Ford" if there's context in the conversation where that would make sense? Or if there's enough context, "I drive a 2003". That's not an adjective in these cases. Jul 31 '14 at 20:22
  • Absolutely. In English, nouns can act like adjectives "for free", without any morphological markings. Ford is usually a noun, but when it's used like this it's also an adjective. just like you can have an "office job" (a job in an office), or a "paper tray" (a tray for holding paper), you can have a "Ford truck" (a truck made by Ford)
    – colinro
    Jul 31 '14 at 20:33
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    @colinro Not really, when a noun modifies a noun it's still a noun, it doesn't become an adjective! You're right when you say that nouns can act like adjectives to the extent that they can have the same function, but they don't become a different part of speech. You can't for example say yours is an officer job than mine! Aug 1 '14 at 18:47
  • @Aruacaria I'm not sure I agree with you; you also can't say yours is a red job than mine, but nobody would take that as evidence that red isn't an adjective
    – colinro
    Aug 3 '14 at 20:24
  • I’m sorry, but that parse is pure nonsense. In a “2003 Ford F-150”, the 2003 and Ford elements are no more adjectives than Francis and Scott are in “Francis Scott Key”. In both cases, the entire multiword component is a proper noun.
    – tchrist
    Aug 3 '14 at 20:46

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