For example:

"I always wanted to be a good guy."

While speaking, I could make this sentence mean two different things by simply placing different emphasis on the word "good." If I wanted to say that I always wanted to be good, I would place emphasis on the word good. If I was trying to make it sound like I was trying to be a good guy (as opposed to a bad guy), I would say the words "good guy" together and more quickly.

Does that mean that in the first context "good" is an adjective and in the second, a "good guy" is a noun by itself, or is "good" still an adjective in both cases?

  • Changing stress doesn't normally change grammar; it just disambiguates the various senses. Most sentences are ambiguous when written, because English writing ignores stress and intonation. We don't have problems when talking; only writing. – John Lawler May 14 '18 at 15:14
  • Irrespective of stress, "a good guy" is an NP, a syntactic construction where the noun "guy" is head and the adjective "good" is modifier. – BillJ May 14 '18 at 18:26

"good guy" is a noun phrase, and good is an adjective within that noun phrase.


I think "good" is still an adjective in both cases. Even if you consider "good guy" to be a noun unto itself, I still think this applies. Consider "goldfish" - it's one noun, but "gold" is still an adjective describing the noun "fish." Thoughts?

  • In the case of "goldfish," however, I would say that "gold" is just part of the noun. That is likely why there is no space between the two words. Likewise, there is no other kind of fish that goldfish refers to - it is a distinct type of fish. However, if you said "I saw a gold fish", it could be one of many types of fish. . . – Cody Brower May 14 '18 at 21:55

Good guy has an acquired status as a noun phrase - with a variety of possible nuances. In some cases, depending on the sense I was attempting to articulate I might either hyphenate the term, or put it in inverted commas.

As others have pointed out the word "good" retains its adjectival quality, even when used within a noun phrase.

  • I note the drive-by shooter has done his/her worst again. Please have the courtesy to explain the downvote. – WS2 May 14 '18 at 21:31

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