For example, "the instruction manual can be found in the device's box". "Device's" doesn't sound right to me, so I thought of using: "the instruction manual can be found in the device box".

Is it correct to use "device" as a modifier/adjective? In general, when is it correct to use a noun as a modifier?

  • Well it's like saying "car trunk" you don't say "car's trunk" no? – ealy Sep 15 '17 at 6:41
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    "Device box", where "device" modifies "box", is ambiguous here since it could easily be taken to mean 'a box for keeping various devices in'. But the genitive NP "device's box" serves to indicate that the instructions are in the box 'belonging' only to this particular device. Note that in the latter analysis, "device's" is not a modifier, but a 'subject-determiner'. – BillJ Sep 15 '17 at 7:01
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    "Device's" may not sound right to you but in your example, the key is whether or not it reads well. While I might recast the sentence to use it in speech; when I read it in your question, I found the wording to be natural and your meaning clear. – NMI Sep 15 '17 at 10:38
  • All excellent answers. Thanks for the vote of confidence NMI – Anthony Sep 15 '17 at 12:17

Yes it is correct to use nouns to modify other nouns as premodifiers since they express either some sort of descriptive meaning { only adjectives called describers } or some kind of classification { adjectives or nouns called classifiers }. For example:

  • The ancient town , aggressive driving, some trite-but-true thing....> ( describers (adjectives) give some attributes or qualities about the head words)

  • a Christmas carol , the cherry trees, to refine test drive, ... or ... wooden slat , western songs....> ( nouns and adjectives as classifiers which category or classify the head words).

  • But in your case The instruction manual can be found in the device's box the noun device doesn't modify ( classify or describe) the noun box. The 's genitive expresses a possession between the box and the device ( the driver's name, Dunken's book,,,,,etc). It plays a role as possessive determiner that points to the entity which the head word is referencing. So The device's box is correct and you can also say The instruction manual can be found in the box of the device


An attributive noun is a noun that modifies another noun like an adjective. However...

No, in your example you cannot use "device" to modify "box." The reason you need to use the possessive is that the instructions are for the device, not the box, but they're not in the device. They're in the device's box.

To further demonstrate this, an alternative way to structure your sentence is:

The instruction manual for this device is inside its box.

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