Is there a term for when a noun is used as an adjective, as in:

  • Click the button to open the configuration dialog.
  • I need to stop at the car wash.
  • The train station is right next to the bus station.
  • Do you have documentation for the setup process?
  • I'm throwing a party, and the entire ELU community is invited.
  • Hopefully, the party won't get busted by the grammar police again.

Is there a word to describe that?

Also, are those even adjectives? Or are they adverbs or something?

(I feel like this must be a duplicate (?) but I could only find questions about when adjectives are used as nouns, not the other way around...)


There are several terms for this: attributive noun, qualifying noun, noun adjunct, noun modifier. ("Adjectival noun" is an older term for it as well.)

It is still a noun—not an adjective or adverb—but it's used to modify another noun an way similar to what adjectives do.

An adjective can be used after the noun: The large station / the station is large

But an attributive noun can't: The train station / *The station is train

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  • Not a foolproof test; a nuclear explosion / an electrical storm. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 19 at 18:59
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    Hmm. It seems grammatical to me to say, "The explosion was nuclear" or "The storm was electrical." Awkward, yes. Ungrammatical, I don't think so. – Jake Frandsen Feb 19 at 21:11
  • @EdwinAshworth Hm, yeah, I'm stupid but I have to agree with Jake on that test. "The explosion is nuclear" is weird but still makes sense, otoh with a ... wait for it ... 🎉 qualifying noun 🎉 as in "population explosion", "the explosion is population" doesn't make sense any more. The test still checks out in both cases. – Jason C Feb 19 at 23:51
  • 'The explosion is nuclear' is non-standard. Some adjectives (eg 'mere', 'elder', 'former', 'chemical', ) are well recognised to be attributive-only (just as there are a few that are predicative only, like 'awake', 'alert', 'aloof', 'unaware'). And try making sense of 'The man was mere' from 'He was a mere man'. There can be problems with some words in deciding whether a premodifier is an adjective or an attributive noun (a fun party, a steel bridge are two examples that grammarians have studied in depth). – Edwin Ashworth Feb 20 at 12:06

The nouns in your examples are not really used as an adjectives; they are used as nominal modifiers, and those can either be adjectives or nouns. In the latter case there is a grey area with compound nouns.

In some grammatical approaches there is a distinction between form (adjective) and function (modifier); different forms can fulfill a particular function.

Most of your examples I would actually classify as compound nouns.

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  • I didn't even know "modifiers" were a thing; I'll go read more. Where is the line between a noun with a modifier and a compound noun (or is that enough for a new question)? – Jason C Feb 19 at 17:49
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    It depends on the grammatical theory; some more traditional approaches might have different terminology. The line between nominal modifiers and compound nouns is fluid. If a particular combination is used frequently, it tends to be seen as a compound. Can be quite subjective. – Oliver Mason Feb 19 at 17:52

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