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In a section titled "Fused modifier-heads", A Student's Introduction to English Grammar says:

The modifiers which most readily fuse with the head include these: •   determinatives used in modifier function following a determiner (e.g. these two)

•   superlatives and comparatives (the best, the most important of them, the taller of them)

ordinal numeral words (the second, the eighth)

•   certain semantic categories of adjective, e.g. colour adjectives as in the blue and nationality adjectives that aren’t also count nouns, as in the French, the English, the Dutch (we don’t get *The Belgian are very courteous because we use the count noun instead: The Belgians are very courteous).

Since a noun can also be modifier of an NP (noun phrase), I wonder if a noun functioning as modifier of an NP can fuse with the head.

In (a), for example, the nouns labor and transportation are modifiers of the respective NPs labor secretary and transportation secretary.

a. The president nominated [XXX] for labor secretary and [YYY] for transportation secretary.

Can the modifier/noun transportation here fuse with the head secretary as in (b)?

b. The president nominated [XXX] for labor secretary and [YYY] for transportation.

If (b) doesn't work, are there any examples where a noun functioning as modifier of an NP can fuse with the head?

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  • When we say, Agriculture Ministry (In India), or Labour Department, similar fusing happens, doesn't it?
    – Ram Pillai
    Mar 14, 2020 at 4:03
  • @RamPillai Please give a full-sentence example.
    – listeneva
    Mar 14, 2020 at 4:19
  • b. The president nominated [XXX] for labor secretary and [YYY] for transportation. In (b) labor secretary is a title of an office. The noun1 + noun2 combination gives “noun2 associated with noun1 - the secretary associated with “labor”, and “labor” is understood as “matters concerning employment.” So, following the conjunction, when we see “transportation” we understand this as “the same office in matters concerning transportation”.
    – Greybeard
    Mar 15, 2020 at 10:01

1 Answer 1

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No, the noun acting as a stunt adjective cannot fuse without causing semantic chaos.

Examples should make that fairly obvious:

*The president nominated him for labor secretary and her for transportation.

*I ordered the duck soup and she ordered the chicken. (incorrect assuming she ordered soup)

*We gave Bob his tinfoil hat and Sally her witch.

In 9.3 Fusion of internal modifier and head, CGEL notes:


The head does not fuse so readily with an internal modifier as with a determiner, as evident from the ungrammaticality of such examples as:

[20]   i *Because the existing bridge is too narrow, we will have to build [a new].
      ii *The retreating troops were captured, but [the advancing] managed to escape. 
     iii *Bill likes the linguistics lecturer, but I prefer [the sociology].

The adjective new, the verb advancing, and the noun sociology require a following head, such as one.

Source: The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Ch. 5, §9.3

Things that can fuse, says CGEL in that same section, include "Modifiers denoting colour, provenance, and composition." Examples offered are:

[25]   i  Henrietta likes red shirts, and I like [blue].
      ii Knut wanted the purple wall paper,but I wanted [the mauve].
     iii Henrietta likes Russian vodka, and I like [Polish].
      iv Knut wanted the French caterers, but I wanted [the Italian].
       v I prefer cotton shirts to [nylon].
      vi Knut likes malt whisky, but I prefer [blended].

Now, those all look like adjectives . . . except in v; cotton and nylon are nouns. Or are they?

I will leave you here to explore attributive nouns vs. conversion / "zero-derivation" denominal adjectives (it's a vast subject with little consensus).

But before I go, I will proffer that I think cotton and nylon—like stone and iron—are actually fully converted to adjectives, and that is what allows fusion. Check this out:

4.1 Conversion from noun to adjective

There are some clues, though, to make sure conversion has taken place. In the case of adjectives coming from nouns, the hints are quite easy: they can be considered as cases of conversion only when they can appear in predicative as well as in attributive form. If the denominal adjective can be used attributively, we can affirm conversion has happened. If it can only appear predicatively, it is merely a case of partial conversion. 'Mahogany music box' (62) can be used in an attributive way, "the music box is mahogany". This implies 'mahogany' is a denominal adjective. However, in the predicative phrase 'antiques dealers' (63) we cannot treat 'antiques' as an adjective because the attributive form of this expression is ungrammatical (*dealers are antique).

Source: Grammatical Conversion in English: Some new trends in lexical evolution

Adjective test:

The shirt is cotton. (correct; cotton is a denominal adjective in cotton shirt)

*The soup is duck. (incorrect; duck is an attributive noun in duck soup)

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    I don't agree that "*The president nominated him for labor secretary and her for transportation" and "*I ordered the duck soup and she ordered the chicken [soup]" are absolutely unacceptable.
    – herisson
    Mar 15, 2020 at 0:46
  • Also, note that people do say things like "The soup was chicken"
    – herisson
    Mar 15, 2020 at 0:48
  • @herisson: For me, there's no way to recover secretary after transportation. And your example of The soup was chicken reads as The soup was chicken [soup]. Not like The soup was tasty. Mar 15, 2020 at 1:36
  • @herisson How acceptable is (b) to you? Barely acceptable or fully acceptable?
    – listeneva
    Mar 15, 2020 at 2:24
  • 1
    How about: I prefer paper bags to plastic. One might think of paper here as an attributive noun—a noun that happens to be pressed into service as an adjective. But paper is now (since the 16th century) an adjective in its own right. See paper. So I guess what I am trying to say is: if it can fuse, it's not a noun, it was just born of one. Mar 15, 2020 at 3:32

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