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For example:

  • Billionaire John Smith purchased a new yacht last week.
  • ACME Corporation says it treats workers well, but protestor Jane Doe believes otherwise.

What role do the nouns "billionaire" and "protestor" play here? They seem to be acting as adjectives. They don't seem like noun modifiers to me, as the names are not really being modified.

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    This is a media style that occurs in newspapers only. It's designed to get the most contextual information into the first two or three sentences in a news story, because that's about all most people read. Using an appositive means you don't have to have a separate sentence saying that somebody is a protestor or a billionaire, it it's relevant to the text. You don't see citizen or racist in apposition often, for instance. Sep 19 '19 at 18:04
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    A simple test to see if something actually acts as an adjective is check if it has a comparative degree and if it can be modified by adverbs. You cannot say "More billionaire John Smith", or "most protestor Jane Doe". You cannot say "Very billionaire John Smith", or "beautifully protestor Jane Doe". (You can, however, say "Eccentric billionaire John Smith", and you can say "lone protestor Jane Doe". How many parts of speech do you know that you can modify using an actual adjective like eccentric or lone?)
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 19 '19 at 22:53
  • The nouns certainly are being modified, however you choose to describe the word that's doing the modifying. (And another term for noun adjunct is attributive noun.) Sep 21 '19 at 21:41
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The usage is as a noun adjunct. A noun adjunct is a noun that is used to modify another noun. In each of these instances, a noun is being used to modify another noun. The noun adjunct is functioning appositively as a false title.

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  • In this case of newspaper speak, I'd argue, It's indistinguishable from appositives in the back-field "the firstlady, Mrs. Xi, said ...", "Mrs. Xi, the first lady, said ..." in which the commas and the definite article are optional. That might still qualify as noun adjunct, I'm not sure, but it's very different from "chicken soup"--it doesn't feel adjectival and although that's not a definitive mark to meet, that's exactly what the question is about.
    – vectory
    Sep 19 '19 at 22:59

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