When you learn to play a musical instrument there are some basic skills that need to be learned first. For example, how to hold or sit at the instrument safely and comfortably; how to make the instrument sound; how to make your sounds musical (e.g. in tune, in time, staccato/legato), etc.

On the piano these essential initial skills might be called 'basic keyboard skills'. Since they provide the foundation for subsequent learning I am inclined to call them 'foundation keyboard skills'.

But some people, when they read this have preferred to say 'foundational keyboard skills' (i.e. an adjective rather than a noun).

Is there a case that can be made for 'foundation keyboard skill' being a compound noun?

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    reading is a much more common word to occur between foundation / foundational and skills, so check out this usage NGram. I can't believe anyone would think the meaning is affected by whether or not you explicitly "adjectivalise" the first word by including -al (the unmodified "noun adjunct" form is a perfectly natural usage in English). Apr 26, 2022 at 15:21
  • Although one might misinterpret it as skills with a foundation keyboard. I prefer foundational.
    – Jim
    Apr 26, 2022 at 18:26
  • Very helpful ngram @FumbleFingers. When foundation skills and foundational skills are compared foundation skills was the preferred form prior to 2005 books.google.com/ngrams/…. The use of foundational seems to align with the rise of the internet! It also seems that British English preferred foundation (prior to the internet!) books.google.com/ngrams/….
    – Dan
    Apr 26, 2022 at 21:24
  • American usage only recognises foundational books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Dan
    Apr 26, 2022 at 21:28
  • Dan - I don't understand why you repeated my NGram search without the additional adjectival term reading [skills] to avoid "false positive" accidental matches, but I don't think it justifies saying "foundation skills was the preferred form prior to 2005". It's true the "bare noun adjunct" had a small increase in prevalence in the decade centred around 2010, but I'd say it was always uncommon compared to the explicitly adjectival form. Apr 27, 2022 at 11:03

1 Answer 1


A compound noun is usually one that has an established usage as a single term: blackboard, water fountain, etc. I therefore wouldn't describe "foundation keyboard skill" that way.

We usually prefer the adjective form if one is available. However, if the adjective's meaning is not quite right or you want to emphasize the noun, then an attributive noun is often fine.

For example, it might be possible to say that an engineering firm that builds foundations for buildings does "foundational construction", but most people would prefer "foundation construction".

In your case, the adjective "foundational" seems to work well, and I don't see any need to emphasize the fact that the skills have to do with a "foundation", so I agree with the people who prefer the adjective form. This Google Books ngram (from FumbleFingers' comment, with "reading" instead of "keyboard") supports that idea:

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    Perhaps you mean to say, we prefer the adjectival form if one is available :P Apr 26, 2022 at 20:48
  • @YaakovSaxon Oh haha, yes, I guess I used "adjective" itself as an attributive noun there! Apr 26, 2022 at 23:10
  • @MarcInManhattan what is your reason and basis for saying that '...we usually prefer the adjective form if one is available...'? You didn't!
    – Dan
    Apr 27, 2022 at 22:28
  • @Dan I admit that I don't think I could quickly find an authoritative source for that. However, I don't think there's any dispute that adjectives usually modify nominals, whereas nominals usually have other functions (as subject, as direct object, etc.). So I think that common sense suggests that an adjective is preferable when modifying a nominal. Apr 28, 2022 at 5:32

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