I may not express my question clear enough in the title. Here I give some examples and it would be explicit to all of us.

Example1: 'book ticket' vs 'ticket book' Example2: 'bill order' vs 'order bill'

The meanings of noun phrases are different after inverted. These two examples are not general enough from my point of view. And I have no idea about other noun phrases.

Can anyone come up with more excellent examples? Really appreciate.

Thank you so much for everyone helping me thinking about good examples.@ ohwilleke @tchrist @Jim @ Andrew Leach. Really appreciate.

closed as too broad by Andrew Leach Mar 27 '17 at 9:30

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  • I'm not clear what you are asking. Do you mean to ask if there are noun phrases that have the same meaning if they are inverted? Or, do you merely mean instead to ask if there are noun phases which when inverted also form noun phrases even though they may mean something different? Incidentally the phrase "order bill" seems awkward although "bill order" could be used to mean the order of bills in a stack of invoices or the order of performances on the agenda of a concert which is called a bill. And "book ticket" would usually be verb-noun, while "ticket book" would usually be adjective-noun. – ohwilleke Mar 27 '17 at 0:48
  • @ohwilleke No, ticket book is noun–noun. So are the rest of those. – tchrist Mar 27 '17 at 1:24
  • *tchrist I would be willing to defer to you that "ticket book" and "bill order" could be "attributive noun-noun." But "book ticket" is usually used in the sense of verb-noun with "book" being used in a sense that means "purchase" or "reserve". and "order bill" is a phrase that I can not imagine in any ordinary sentence. – ohwilleke Mar 27 '17 at 1:44
  • 1
    There are probably too many to list, but they are not common. record player comes to mind. And ice cube and cube ice is interesting because they almost mean the same thing. – Jim Mar 27 '17 at 3:44
  • There are too many answers to this question, as @tchrist demonstrates. It's possible to create any noun phrase with two nouns (custard television, anyone?), and an inverted phrase will always have a different meaning because the main noun is different. – Andrew Leach Mar 27 '17 at 9:32

You appear to be asking not about noun phrases in general, but about noun–noun phrases where the first noun is used attributively and it is the second noun that’s what we’re really talking about.

If you reverse those, it’s still a noun–noun phrase and it may well still have meaning, but it will certainly not be the same meaning.


  • baby food > food baby
  • power steering > steering power
  • story book > book story
  • record label > label record
  • killer bee > bee killer
  • company lawyer > lawyer company

Take the last example: a company lawyer is a lawyer, but a lawyer company is a company. They all work that way.

  • Not all inversions are idiomatic or meaningful, however. I would not be able to assign a clear meaning from the original question and the list above to 'order bill", "food baby", "book story", or "label record". While the general rule permits such phrases, in fact, they are not used on any regular basis and don't really have a clear meaning. There are also phrases like "book ticket" where the verb-noun sense of that pair of words would predominate over a noun-noun sense of those words whose meaning would in any case be unclear. – ohwilleke Mar 27 '17 at 1:48
  • @ohwilleke When you use these noun–noun compounds in actual noun phrases, it’s clear that they’re always compound nouns. Plunk them down in this for example: “Some nice ɴᴏᴜɴ–ɴᴏᴜɴ is always good to have around.” – tchrist Mar 27 '17 at 1:57
  • What are the meanings of 'food baby' and 'book story'? – mahmud koya Mar 27 '17 at 3:01
  • A food baby is a baby that is food (think cannibals who rear children specifically to eat); a book story is a story of a book. Sure, neither are idiomatic, but the characteristic of these noun phrases is that the second noun is the object itself, and the first word describes it in some way. They all have meaning, even if that meaning is uncommon. – Andrew Leach Mar 27 '17 at 9:28

tchrists are good

grape shot shot grape (the first is one word, the second is grape past its sell by date!) blue sky sky blue red blood blood red (and many others of this form) disco dancer dancer disco ? father christmas Christmas father ?

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