Noun modifiers (using a noun like an adjective) - Podcast Episode 10

Noun modifiers (using a noun like an adjective)

Audio transcript:
Welcome to episode 10 of The English Sessions. Noun Modifiers (Using a noun like an adjective). I am your host and English teacher, Mike Butler. These podcasts can help you improve your English! Together, we will talk about grammar… pronunciation… structure... and have some fun too. Remember to visit my website, to contact me for private lessons, and for more content.
You can also read the transcript of this audio on the website, as you listen to this episode.

Listen for these words today:
To bear - “to bear” means to endure, or tolerate. For example, “the cold is too much to bear”.

Rack - a ‘rack’ can hold things, or store things. I have a rack for my spices, to keep them organized.

Bike Rack
Ring - a ‘ring’ goes on your finger. Many cultures use a ‘ring’ to show that you are married. As in, “Oh no, I lost my wedding ring!”

Gold Ring
To see - yes, ‘to see’ is what we do with our eyes, but today I’m using it in a different way. “To see” can also just mean “to understand”.

Have you noticed that sometimes in English you will see two nouns together? Three nouns together? In English, nouns can describe other nouns.

Let’s start with a test. Should we say, “a gold ring” or “a golden ring”? Well, it depends. Both are used. For example, “I bought a new gold ring, because I lost the first one.” AND: “The Golden Ring is a collection of historic Russian cities, northeast of Moscow and southeast of Saint Petersburg.” (

Both are used in different sentences; in different contexts. “Golden” is a true adjective. It can describe something that is gold, or that looks like gold. “Gold” is of course, the noun. Many items that are made of gold are often described with just the word ‘gold’. We are using ‘gold’ here as a noun modifier. It is one noun that describes another noun. In fact, it is so common to use ‘gold’ to describe something that is made of gold, that the Oxford dictionary also has it listed as an adjective as well.

This is incredibly common in English. Car door. Bike rack. What kind of door is it? It is a car door. Do you like the car door? Yes, it is a nice door. It is a beautiful door. It is a car door. You see? ‘Car’ is just like beautiful or nice in the sentence. It describes the door. Another example is ‘bike rack’. I have a rack. What kind of rack is it? It is a bike rack.

Let’s continue with this. It is a bike rack. I have 5 bike racks. I have 5 big, beautiful bike racks. Notice that the noun modifier, ‘bike’, is singular. You are describing the type of rack. You don’t need ‘bike’ to be a plural noun. If you have more than one, then only ‘rack’ changes. I have one bike rack, I have two bike racks. One more thing, notice that ‘bike’ comes AFTER the adjectives. A big, beautiful bike rack.

So remember, ‘noun modifiers’ come before the noun it is describing, typically, and is singular, typically. If it is included in a list of words that describe the noun, then it should come after the true adjectives. Big, beautiful bike rack, NOT: “big, bike beautiful rack”

Let’s look at another one. Coffee table. A “coffee table” is a table that is low to the ground, and often is in front of a sofa. A perfect table on which to rest your coffee as you chat with a friend. A “coffee table book” is a large book that you put on your coffee table. So, ‘coffee’ describes the type of table, and then ‘coffee table’ describes the type of book!!! Hi Frank, what kind of table is that? “It’s a coffee table”. Do you like your coffee table? “Yes, it’s a very nice coffee table”. Okay Frank, what type of book is that? You guessed it, it’s a coffee table book. A very specific type of book.

A coffee table book about coffee tables!
Using one noun to describe another noun is very common in English. Other common examples include: fan blade; straw hat; picture frame; cardboard box… I could go on all day!

You will see this with proper nouns too. For example, “The London streets were filled with protesters” or “The Arizona heat was too much to bear”.

It is uncommon to say “the car’s door”. C-A-R apostrophe ’S’. Why? Because the possessive apostrophe is more commonly used with nouns that are living things, or people, or groups of people, like countries. “Canada’s maple syrup is the best in the world”. Or, “Mike’s car is orange”. There are exceptions to this rule, like so many English rules. We will talk more about the possessive apostrophe in future episodes.

So, to recap, noun modifiers are almost always singular, and come before another noun. They describe the other noun, just like an adjective does.

Do you have any examples you want to share? Are you unsure about the use of a noun modifier? Write in to the podcast, leave a message on the website, or write to me at . As I said before, there are exceptions to these rules. Leave a message with some examples   of these exceptions, and I will share them with my listeners.

Any questions? Write to me at . Leave a message for me on the website, and I will play it on the podcast. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast so you won’t miss an episode. Visit for more content. The English Sessions is now on Facebook. You can find a link to the Facebook page on our website. Please rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time, this is Mike signing off.


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