I have an example of Modification of Nouns in English from a realy valid book.It says there are two types of modifiers:adj. modifiers, and noun modifiers but it gives an example on both sides which is pretty puzzling:

Adjective Modifiers(modifiers are bolded):

He won a gold* medal in the 1000-meter race in the seventeenth winter Olympics.

Noun Modifiers(modifiers are bolded):

He won a gold* medal in the 1000-meter race in the seventeenth winter Olympics.

Then it says,"The word gold can be considered a noun or an adjective, depending on wether it refers to the material or the color."

But after that it indicates that adj. modifiers have 11 types which are colors,material and 9 more.So can anyone tell me why the word gold could be a noun there?

  • Because gold is the substance of which the medal is made. Jul 22, 2017 at 13:36
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    Gold can indeed be either noun or adjective, and can refer to either color or material, but the semantic options do not track perfectly as alleged with the syntactic ones. Jul 22, 2017 at 15:01
  • What's the grammatical difference between a wooden table and a wood table? The word wooden is an adjective, and a material modifier. The word wood is a noun, but also a material modifier. The word golden is an adjective modifier, which can either refer to the color or the material. Jul 22, 2017 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


I think the book you have has expressed this point poorly.

In this case gold can be either a noun or adjective modifier, but as a noun modifier it is not really about the material that the medal is made from but what the material signifies, namely coming first. Gold medal is in that sense equivalent to winners' medal (i.e. first place) rather than either gold-coloured medal or made-from-gold medal. In winners medal we have a noun modifier, in the other two an adjective modifier.

  • 2
    In your proposed substitution, winners is more properly winner's (or winners'), which as a possessive or genitive is at least arguably a third kind of modifier for a noun, or perhaps not even a modifier as such. Jul 22, 2017 at 14:55
  • 1
    You make a good point, @BrianDonovan. Perhaps what I mean is "winners'-type medal". Jul 22, 2017 at 14:57

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