There is a rule called "Noun+Noun" like Rose garden or local police that the first noun modifies the second one and work as a kind of adjective, but there are some words that i can't understand their structure, like "attorney general", "the way home", "best/worst case scenario". what kind of rule do they follow?

asked Mar 23 '12 at 06:16 Amirhossein New member

2 answers


"Local police" is actually Adjective+Noun.  Local is usually an adjective, though some use it as a noun to refer to local residents.


"Attorney General" is a job title.  It would make more sense if they had called it "General Attorney," since it appears that the adjective comes last.  But think of the 2 words together as one and they make more sense.


In best case scenario and worst case scenario, the first word modifies the second, and combined, they modify the third.  So the first 2 words act as a compound adjective.


I never really thought of "the way home."  That implies, "the path that leads home" or "the way which goes home."  It is more of an idiom or metaphor, and generally is used to refer to completion of a goal.

link comment answered Mar 23 '12 at 09:25 Courtney Contributor

Patty correctly notes that English words can sometimes be nound and sometimes adjectives. Several of the examples Amirhossien offers can be yet another class of adjective -- compound adjectives. The 'rule" Amirhossien cites stems from trying classify the type of compound adjective.


First, whether the words are compound adjectives or remain their native part of speech depends upon where they are used in a sentence. "Worst case" is an adjective+noun. When it stands alone or follows another noun, it remains just that: an adjective followed by a noun. -- "The outcome was the worst case.." But if used as an adjective (that is, before another noun which it modifies), the pair is called a compound adjective (in this case, a adjective+noun compound). "The worst-case outcome ..." 


Attorney General, when it occurs BEFORE a proper name, is a noun+noun compound adjective. (Although it is a special case within that class). So "Attorney General Eric Holder ..." is an example of compound adjective while "The Attorney General ..." is merely two equally weighted nouns. Other examples of equally weighted noun+noun compound adjectives are "nurse-practioner", "philosopher-king", "city-state". Other noun+noun pairs (called single function) include "student nurse", "tenure track",  "shipbuilder".


The hyphens (or lack) above raises a larger issue that bedevils even the most literate native speakers -- compound adjectives, open? closed? or hyphenated?


In general, all major style guides (Chicago, MLA, Associated Press, New York Times) agree that compound adjectives that occur before the subject/object noun are USUALLY hyphenated. But there are many (and I mean MANY) exceptions, depending upon the nature of the compound.  These "exceptions" are impossible to memorize.


The Chicago Manual of Style devotes several pages to "compounds according to the parts of speech" -- adjective+noun, adjective+participle, adverb ending in -ly+participle or adjective, gerund+noun, noun+adjective, and so on.


"Local police" -- while it can form a adjective+nound compound adjective, it seldom does. That is because the noun "police" typically becomes an adjective itself when placed before another noun. "The local police station" is an adjective+adjective+noun. No hyphen goes between the adjectives. "The local police man" collapses into "local policeman".


The general rule about equal noun+noun compounds says they are ALWAYS hyphenated (unless shown closed in the dictionary) whether they are used as a noun or an adjective. Thus "city-state" and "shipbuilder".


"Attorney General", "Postmaster General", "Lieutenant General" are exceptions to the general rule about noun+noun compounds -- they are never hyphenated. Also, in plural forms, the "general" remains singular, while the plural is applied to "attorneys" "postmasters".


I must admit that I am often confused by how to handle compounds. Perhaps the best (most detailed) compilation of the "rules" can be found in the Chicago Manual of Style 16 (University of Chicago Press, 2010) in a ten-page table following Section 7.85 (pages 375-384).

link comment answered Mar 23 '12 at 16:59 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

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