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In the sentence below, does "large" modify "chicken eggs" or only "eggs"?

There were large chicken eggs in the barn.

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    ..Chicken eggs. – aparente001 Sep 1 '17 at 5:20
  • It's possible that it modifies chicken. The eggs are from large chickens. – green_ideas Sep 1 '17 at 12:08
  • @Clare My first impression is that unless re-ordered by hyphens, the attributive noun - head noun string is always the more cohesive. Have you an example where {ADJ + NOUNattrib} obviously modifies {NOUNhead}? I'd demand 'eggs from large chickens' here. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 1 '17 at 16:21
  • Ah, yes!! It's the old chicken/egg question! – Hot Licks May 1 '18 at 1:24
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So it turns out, large acts as an adjective to the noun "eggs" since it describes about the size of the eggs. The word "chicken" sure describes about what kind of eggs they are but it still qualifies to be a noun. Such, nouns are called as "attributive nouns" So, "large" in this sentence modifies chicken eggs.

Reference

  • Hello, Swasti. It is generally agreed that prenominal usages such as 'chicken' here do not take 'chicken' etc out of the noun class. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 1 '17 at 7:48
  • Hi Edwin. So is "chicken" not an adjective to "eggs" in the above sentence ? It sure adds a description to the noun ''eggs''. Doesn't that make it fall into the adjective category in the context of this sentence ? – Swasti Gupta Sep 1 '17 at 9:07
  • No. Though there are borderline cases ('steel bridge' has given rise to a lot of head-scratching), the classification of say 'government' in 'a government spokesman' would be agreed by (almost?) all grammarians to be (attributive) noun rather than adjective. Neil Coffey's answer here is one of the most balanced I've seen. (There is a further complication; ink well say may be better classified as a single (open compound) lexeme.) – Edwin Ashworth Sep 1 '17 at 9:47
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    Wow ! Cool ! Thanks a lot for the post link. It was very informative. So essentially "chicken" here acts as an attributive noun instead of an adjective. And thus, the word large should modify "chicken eggs" . I will make an edit to the answer. Thanks a lot ! :) – Swasti Gupta Sep 1 '17 at 11:15
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If you think of "chicken eggs" as a single compounded noun due to the noun adjunct chicken:

adj / compound noun

then, large just modifies chicken eggs. Making [large+chicken(-)eggs] a noun phrase.

Test: Normally modifiers can be removed without affecting the sentence:

There were large chicken eggs in the barn.

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In the general case it's ambiguous, but, absent context to the contrary the adjective is assumed to modify "eggs" rather than "chicken".

Note that it's somewhat meaningless to ask if it modifies "chicken eggs" or just "eggs", since in either case the eggs are large.

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