I’d like to understand if there is any difference between attributive nouns and attributive adjectives with regard to ‘-ist’ suffixed words that refer ideologies, belief systems and movements in art etc.

As such, words ‘communist’, ‘socialist’, ’Buddhist’ and ‘impressionist’ are classified as both noun and adjective. In addition to their noun definition almost all dictionaries indicate such words as adjective.

My confusion as a non-native English speaker and linguistics enthuisast arises when these ‘-ist’ suffixed words are used attributively for objects and inanimate things.

Let’s take socialist as an example.

Cambridge dictionary defines the word ‘socialist’ as below:

socialist (noun): a supporter of socialism or a member of socialist political party

socialist (adjective): supporting or relating to socialism

Here are the examples that concern my questions:

He had socialist books in his bag.

My interpretation: ‘He had books about socialism in his bag’ or ‘He had books that are socialist by content.’

She sang a socialist song

My interpretation: ‘She sang a song about socialism’ or ‘She sang a song that has perspectives related with socialism’

Several native speakers around me have defined ‘socialist ‘in these phrases as a noun instead of adjective without any proper explanation. People who evaluate ‘socialist’ as an adjective most often refer common and wide usage of the word as an attributive noun over time.

  • In such phrases can ‘socialist’ be either attributive noun or attributive adjective? If attributive noun and attributive adjective are two different forms can you please explain why?


  • Is attributive noun and atrributive adjective are the same, having the same connotation?

We can for example interpret ‘red book’ as the book ‘that is red’. However it doesn’t sound natural to interpret ‘socialist book’ predicatively as ‘the book that is socialist’.It sounds like personification to say ‘ the book that is socialist.’

Can this be a reason why some people evaluate socalist as attributive noun instead of adjective?

I’ve come accross some threads in stackexchange with regard to attributive nouns but none of them were touching upon, these special ‘-ist’ words. I couldn't find any specific articles on the internet either.


  • The adjective primarily means ‘having opinions which support socialism’, and books and songs don’t hold opinions. I suspect that’s why people are more likely to think of it as a noun here. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 24 at 23:20
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I see your point but I stii haven't got any answer for my questions on Stackexchange. What is your opinion with regard to attributive noun and adjective difference? – Jacques Jun 25 at 6:15

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