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I am confused with adjectives before compound nouns , For example If I say 'stupid human mistakes' ,what does it mean exactly?

1-mistakes made by stupid person

2-human mistakes that is stupid


marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, user66974, MetaEd, NVZ, Community Jul 31 '16 at 16:11

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    Preliminary point: "human mistakes" is not a compound noun; it is a composite noun phrase. The salient interpretation is that of 'stacked' modification where the head, "mistakes", is modified by "human" to give the nominal "human mistakes" and this in turn is modified by "stupid" to give "stupid human mistakes". In other words "human mistakes" of the stupid kind, rather than mistakes made by stupid humans. – BillJ Jul 29 '16 at 14:39

If you just say, 'stupid human mistakes,' you are being ambiguous - it could be 1 or 2. (I'm sure I've seen jokes played off that ambiguity, but no specific examples come to mind.) If you're the author, you could make it unambiguous, if it's 2, by inserting a comma - 'stupid, human mistakes.' If it's 1, the most general solution is to rephrase with a preposition: "mistakes of stupid humans."

  • thanks for answer , But why we say direct current motors instead motors of direct current ? – d.alex Jul 29 '16 at 14:15
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    Because English likes noun compounds a lot. They're shorter and in context clear enough. I saw this on a sign the other day: Salvation Army Garden Art Festival Wind Chime Closeout Sale Remainders, which means 'remainders from the closeout sale of wind chimes from the art festival in the garden of the Salvation Army (facility)'. You could substitute 'of' for all of the prepositions and it would also be grammatical, if repetitious. Noun compounds save on articles, too. – John Lawler Jul 29 '16 at 14:22
  • So you mean that both are true (direct current motors and motors of direct current) it depends on our decision ? – d.alex Jul 29 '16 at 14:33
  • John's right; "direct current motors" is more succinct, and this particular example is helped by the fact that "direct current" is a distinct thing, a compound concept, a fossilized phrase with a single, well-understood referent. – Non-Contradiction Jul 29 '16 at 14:33
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    "Stupid, human mistakes" (with a comma) would give the meaning "mistakes that are both human and stupid", but omitting the comma gives the meaning "mistakes that are stupid by the standards applicable to human ones". See the difference? – BillJ Jul 29 '16 at 15:04

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