It seems that every reference I can find refers to the columns of a four-poster bed as 'posts', so why is it called a four-poster bed?

I've found some references that indicate that it was called a four-post bed in the 14th and 15th centuries, but nothing describing the change over time or where it came from.

A friend posited:

I assume it came from the way people talk. “That’s a four poster there”

But I would just like some more information regarding that. Is it just a change in the way people talk? Or maybe how they write?

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    Please see Collins definition of er. 4. suffix. You add -er to nouns to form nouns or adjectives which refer to things with a particular characteristic or feature; for example a 'three-wheeler' is a vehicle with three wheels. So a four-poster bed has four corner posts. Apr 6, 2021 at 19:32
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    Sometimes the suffix -ed is added. A three-legged stool. for example.
    – Xanne
    Apr 6, 2021 at 20:13
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    I would argue that it's actually called a "four poster" not a "four poster bed". A "four poster bed" is the same type of redundancy as an "ATM machine" (where the M is already an abbreviation for "machine") Similarly with the other examples in the answers like "a six wheeler" not "a six wheeler truck" etc.
    – alephzero
    Apr 7, 2021 at 12:33
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    Sugar Ray begs to differ... Apr 7, 2021 at 19:08
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    Sometimes the -er is applied directly to the number. A fourteener is a mountain that is at least 14,000 feet in elevation, a fifty-niner was a participant in the Gold Rush of 1859, and fiver and tenner are both sometimes used for paper currency in denominations of 5 or 10 (pounds or dollars). Apr 7, 2021 at 19:14

4 Answers 4


This is a common (though not necessary) way to refer to any object with multiples of a given component.

For instance a three wheeler vehicle which can be a car, bike (strange in itself as 'bike' is short for 'bicycle' or 'two wheels'), handcart or anything else with a tricycle wheel arrangement.

Also a sailing ship with three masts can be called a three master

A 'hackney carriage' with four wheels was called a 'four wheeler'. They are often mentioned in the Sherlock Homes books.

A truck with six wheels (and sometimes one with ten wheels on three axles) is also called a 'six wheeler'. This is also extended to 'eight wheeler', 'ten wheeler' (another name for a six wheeler with twin wheels on the rear axles) and so on.

Those are just a few of the common names for things that are named in the same way as 'four poster' beds so you see it's quite old: at least Victorian, Conan Doyle was writing contemporary fiction in contemporary language when he wrote the Sherlock Holmes books.

  • 3
    my wife gave me some examples that seem different than this? For example, a 4 legged animal. Why is it legged and not legger then? What about a three headed dragon? or like a 3 tiered cake, 10 story building. Guess I'm just confused as to why -er seems to only be used for like, ~2~ 3 (forgot about three master) things in the whole english language.
    – snowe2010
    Apr 6, 2021 at 20:15
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    We do talk about a two-hander, three-hander, referring to the number of players in a game. But as always, the answer to "why does X language not have Y feature" is almost always "because that's the way it is". Languages are what they are, not what somebody with a tidy mind thinks they ought to be.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 6, 2021 at 20:17
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    @snowe2010 - This is used with "seat" as well - a sofa can be a "three seater" or a car can be a "five seater". Apr 6, 2021 at 20:36
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    Yes, you explain the formation of the word "four-poster", which is a noun, but how come people also use it as an attributive adjective, as in "four-poster bed"? That's what the OP asked. In Britain we call 2-deck buses "double-deckers" or, sometimes, "double-decker buses". Such "-er" forms are not always used to modify nouns.
    – Rosie F
    Apr 7, 2021 at 6:55
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    Also "double-header" is a fairly common usage isn't it? Isn't "all-nighter" a similar construction? Apr 7, 2021 at 10:52

BoldBen's answer is indeed correct, but I thought there was a little more to add. When the context is clear, nouns formed in this way usually stand on their own. You hear "two-seater" more often than "two-seater car," or "six-shooter" rather than "six-shooter gun." Very often these terms are coined in exactly these situations where the context is clear. Then, when it becomes unclear, the noun indicating the category gets added.


Referring to a noun that has a specific characteristic, there are probably hundreds of examples like runner, sleeper, hunter, worker, steamer, driver, revolver, etc. etc.

For those that include a numeric component there are fewer, but include, off the top of my head:

  • 6 footer (someone/something who is six feet tall),
  • 6 pounder (common cannon size, firing a 6 pound projectile - also available in other calibres),
  • 6 shooter (gun with 6 bullets),
  • 5 miler (race of 5 miles).
  • 5
    As per Rosie F's comment these are all nouns ending in '-er', whereas the OP is asking about this construct used as an adjective. With "three-legged dog" and "one-armed man" the adjective form uses "-ed", not "-er", so why the difference? Apr 7, 2021 at 12:36
  • "6 pounder" is also an adjective in "6 pounder gun", e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QF_6-pounder_Hotchkiss. Similarly "a four poster" can be a noun, with "bed" implicit.
    – armb
    Apr 7, 2021 at 20:03
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    @user7761803 - There is a simple answer to this but it needs to be a separate question. Apr 7, 2021 at 20:26
  • @user7761803 I would argue that it is not an adjective, or maybe that English frequently has constructions which use nouns "as an adjective" in your sense. Compare "cantaloupe melon", "red velvet cake", "Lufthansa plane" - we don't say "Lufthansian plane", we chain a first noun denoting the kind, then the general noun. I don't know if this construction has a specific name among linguists, but I think it is the one that applies to "four poster", used with or without "bed" afterwards.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 8, 2021 at 15:08
  • @user7761803 I think you could analyze them as attributive nouns, like "face mask" or "woman doctor."
    – Casey
    Apr 12, 2021 at 14:25

I can certainly agree that one can say "a 4-poster" when describing a bed, but there is no way that it is proper English to say "a 4-poster bed". If you're going to add the word "bed" in your description, then you must say "a 4-post bed". "A 4-poster bed" makes it sound like there are 4 posters (as in a promo or show bill) on the bed, and not 4 wooden posts.

  • 2
    Following that logic, wouldn't describing the bed as being "a 4-poster" also mean that it has 4 posters? Why would adding "bed" at the end change that? Sep 18, 2022 at 21:14

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