Given the following sentence:

You should always use prefixes with your table names

Is the word table properly labeled as a noun or an adjective, as it is functioning as an adjective but the base word is a noun?


I am prefixing the words in some phrases with abbreviations. Some of the words are giving me trouble in classification. (The message is supposed to be an implicit proof of why adding prefixes to table names in a database is terrible. But I'd like to get it right.)

Here's the full set of sentences for your amusement. However, please restrict your comments to the stated question, for the most part.

  1. com-Don't ver-Listen prep-To adj-Those adj-Other nou-People.
  2. pro-You aux-Should adv-Always ver-Use nou-Prefixes prep-With pro-Your adj-Table nou-Names.
  3. pro-I aux-Have adv-Even ver-Started ver-Using pro-Them prep-In adj-Normal nou-Writing.

  4. com-See adv-How adj-Effective pr-It ver-Is?

  5. nou-People aux-Can ver-Understand pro-Your nou-Writing adv-Better!

This question is part of 3 related questions:

  1. Adjectives vs. determinatives
  2. This question
  3. Verbs vs. gerunds vs. something else

It originally came from this closed question

  • I should probably also mention that calling other an adjective is not always done these days. It certainly doesn’t share the same set of syntactic properties most adjectives share, as it works differently from them and occupies a distinct position way to the fore of the sequence of things that go into a noun phrase.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 8:02
  • 1
    So what is it if not an adjective?
    – ErikE
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 8:03
  • It’s mostly like the any/each/either/both/enough/every/neither/no/... class but it’s a bit tricky because it goes there in the determiner slot but usually requires its own determiner (another, the other, any other, some other), whereas that class blocks further determiners. You cannot have the either boy or the another boy, for example. But that probably merits its own question that somebody else can answer while I sleep. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 8:11

1 Answer 1


You should always use prefixes with your table names.

The word table is here a noun, not an adjective. The adjective would be tabular.

Moreover, you should not say that it is “functioning as an adjective”, either. It is functioning as a noun adjunct—that is, as a noun modifying another noun.

Although all adjectives modify nouns,

not all things that modify nouns are adjectives!

The act of modifying a noun does not make an adjective.

Adjectives have other tests you can use to show that they’re adjectives, tests that nouns do not pass. And vice versa. For example, if it is an adjective, then you can use it as the predicate in a copula without changing the sense. Compare easy theory with an adjective versus game theory with two nouns.

  • The theory is easy.
  • *The theory is game.

That proves that game is still a noun, because it cannot be a predicate adjective here.

Because of how they modify nouns, adjectives can also generally be inflected by degree into comparative and superlative degrees, whether synthetically by inflection or analytically by adding more words.

Compare what happens when we attempt to form the superlative degree of easy theory and game theory. One the one with the adjective works, not the one with the noun:

  • Easiest theory > The theory is easiest.
  • *Gamest theory > *The theory is gamest.

That doesn’t work because again, easy is an adjective but game is a noun and so cannot inflect by degree like adjectives and adverbs can. There’s so such thing as a *gamest anything.

The relationship between by an attributive noun and the noun it modifies is not the same as that of an adjective modifying a noun, and so it is wrong to say that an attribute noun “functions” as an adjective. It does no such thing.

  • I hadn't really made that distinction before between parts of speech and what role they function in. Thank you for the information. So, would you say that when doing a Mad Libs™ sheet, answering the request for an adjective with a noun adjunct would be incorrect?
    – ErikE
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 3:45
  • @ErikE If someone asks you for an adjective, and you give them a noun instead, you had best duck for cover: sound theory.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 7:49
  • Drat it, now I'll be searching for nouns that are also adjectives for the next 17 years.
    – ErikE
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 7:57
  • I see what you mean about nouns not "functioning as an adjectives", if that means they do everything adjectives do, however when sites like grammarist.com say Nouns sometimes function as adjectives it shows that the layman's understanding of the concept is not exactly wrong, just less carefully expressed.
    – ErikE
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 18:15

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