Most people know that microwave is short for microwave oven.

In English, we typically refer to things by the noun, not the adjective - for instance, we can call a green umbrella an umbrella, but not just 'a green'. Likewise, adjectives come before the noun in English.

I am pretty sure that microwave is the adjective and oven is the noun, since it is an oven that uses microwave radiation to cook food. Is there a particular reason we call 'microwave ovens' microwaves, or was that just to avoid confusion with a conventional oven?

I ask because I do a lot of work with radiation and wireless technologies, and I'm kind of annoyed that we use the same word for these "microwave ovens" as well as the actual type of electromagnetic wave that it uses.

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    To distinguish it from ovens in general?
    – jimm101
    Oct 17, 2016 at 20:32
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    Microwaves are actual things, so I'd say the usage is a noun adjunct, not an adjective in the usual sense. An example of an adjective that we use as a noun is right here on this page - the English language is usually just called English. There are loads more - I'll have a pint of bitter [ale], for example. Oct 17, 2016 at 20:35
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    Its almost like washer rather than washing machine. Oct 17, 2016 at 20:48

1 Answer 1


This is an extension of what happens when a retronym is formed.

That's a nice guitar. Glad you like it; it's an acoustic.

The noun (guitar) is dropped when the context is clear.

I love your car, is it an automatic or a manual?


  • 1
    Great example! Now that I look at it, it makes loads more sense Oct 17, 2016 at 20:42

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