Ask the Editor
Archive
Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large
Nouns as adjectives
Wednesday October 8th 2008
Question
I am looking at the entry for turnaround online. The entry lists the function as a noun, but one example shows it as an adjective ("24-hour turnaround time"). Please clarify.
Answer

Sometimes a noun is used before another noun in a way that makes it work like an adjective.

Paul Wood, one of the editors at Merriam-Webster, responds to this question sent by email:

I am looking at the entry for turnaround online. The entry lists the function as a noun, but one example shows it as an adjective ("24-hour turnaround time"). Please clarify.

==

In the verbal illustration that you cite (“24-hour turnaround time on most orders”), turnaround is used as an attributive noun. An attributive noun is a noun which modifies another noun without a linking verb (as apple in “apple pie,” bank in “bank building,” or turnaround in “turnaround time”).

Attributive nouns are generally distinguishable from adjectives used attributively in that:

(a) they cannot be used predicatively ("the time was turnaround" is impossible),

(b) they cannot be premodified by very ("a very turnaround time" is impossible),

(c) they do not take comparative or superlative forms ("turnarounder time" and "the most turnaround time" are impossible),

(d) they cannot be made gradable by modifying intensifiers ("so turnaround time" and "highly turnaround time" are impossible).

There are some adjectives which also do not meet the above criteria. Such adjectives are distinguishable from attributive nouns in that they can only function as modifiers for nouns or noun phrases.

Archive