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Quite paradoxically, I came across this usage in a blog on How to improve your writing skills where the author says,

"When I was a neophyte writer..."

Is this a correct usage? Shouldn't it be

"When I was a neophyte in writing..."

Neophyte is not an adjective but a noun so, it has to be a wrong usage there. But I found this on a website which I usually visit to correct my grammar and English usage, therefore, I am perplexed. Later when I googled this word, I found the same usage at few other places as well.

Can neophyte also be used as an adjective?

Edit: While asking this question, I was not aware of attributive nouns so didn't note this question about usage of noun attributively. But as it stands now, this can be considered a duplicate question.

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    I would say neophyte at writing, not neophyte in writing.
    – Colin
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 5:00
  • I don't understand why this is a duplicate question? When asked, it was specifically on the usage of the word "neophyte"
    – Codeformer
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 7:59
  • If you read the "duplicate" question, it's talking about this English practice for any noun. Neophyte is just one particular case of many – and (regarding your edit) it is being used attributively.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 9:50
  • Agree, marked it duplicate.
    – Codeformer
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 10:23

1 Answer 1

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It is certainly correct to write "neophyte writer".

A noun can be used to modify another noun in English

This is probably an example of the noun neophyte being used attributively. The attributive noun construction (also called things like "noun adjunct" or "compound noun" or "noun used as an adjective") is common in English. You may have heard of it already; if not, you should study it. In general, any noun can be placed before any other noun to modify it (the exact meaning of this construction is fairly vague).

A comparable example would be "master writer", which is acceptable even though "master" is not an adjective.

In addition, nouns can often be converted to adjectives

That said, it is fairly easy to convert a noun (or substantive) to an true adjective or vice versa in English. It would not be too surprising to me to see neophyte used as a true adjective, and in fact the Oxford English Dictionary classifies it as possibly being an adjective:

B. adj. (chiefly attrib.).

Recently converted, initiated, or ordained; inexperienced. Also: characteristic of a recent convert or of a beginner or novice; displaying inexperience.

The most adjective-like example listed in the OED in my opinion is

  • 1883 R. L. Stevenson Silverado Squatters i. iii. 44 A certain neophite and girlish trepidation.

    (the word "neophyte" is here coordinated with the word "girlish", which is unambiguously an adjective)

I think one factor that may faciliate this conversion is the etymology of the term: neophyte is borrowed from Ancient Greek, via Latin, and both of these languages generally have easy interchange of substantives and adjectives. In Latin, neophytus was perfectly acceptable as an adjective; it was borrowed from a Greek word meaning "newly planted".

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  • One of those questions where a close-vote is really required (I've gone for 'duplicate' based on the statement 'Neophyte is not an adjective but a noun so, it has to be a wrong usage there'; lack of research is perhaps more defensible) but the answer contains a good treatment of particulars. I can't be bothered looking for the previous 'attributive ---> adjectival conversion' discussion; it might have included 'more fun vs funner'. Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 7:21

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