I am wondering whether it is OK to use a noun to modify a couple of other nouns. For example, is it correct to write:

The computer brands HP, DELL, Apple and IBM are becoming the symbols of IT industry.


The cities New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston are where I want to go.

I know it is usually considered acceptable in oral English, but I am wondering if it is OK for them to this usage to appear in formal writings?

  • 2
    Yes, I'd call HP, Dell etc., and New York, Chicago etc., appositive modifiers. – BillJ Dec 14 '16 at 15:31

Yes, it's okay in writing as in speech.

Adjectives having the form of nouns are quite common: "house fire", "air travel", "army intelligence", etc. It would be rather wordy and pedantic to force them to fill the role of nouns: "fire in a house", "travel by air", "intelligence-gathering functions in the army".

  • If you like the answer best of those you receive, please click on the checkmark to accept it. – MMacD Dec 15 '16 at 4:10
  • They are not "adjectives having the form of nouns", but just nouns functioning as appositive modifiers. In addition to adjectives, nouns can be modified by quite a range of items such as other nouns ("a brick wall"), verb phrases ("A sleeping child"), determinatives ("another two candidates"). We don't want to call them all adjectives, of course, which is why we use the term "modifier". In the OP's example, "HP, Dell etc." are appositive modifiers of "computer brands", and "New York, Chicago etc.", are appositive modifiers of "The cities. (appositives are a type of postmodifier). – BillJ Dec 17 '16 at 10:14
  • I prefer a simpler taxonomy: they are what they do, and what they look like is secondary to their function. They don't have DNA, so while we can know their lineage with some certainty, any word's species, like its spelling, is merely what we choose to impute to it, a label stuck on with the weak adhesive of convention. – MMacD Dec 17 '16 at 12:14
  • That's precisely where you're going wrong, and what causes learners much confusion. When we analyse (parse) a clause, all the words and phrases are assigned two labels: a category label (noun, adjective, verb etc.) and a functional one (subject, object, modifier etc.). At word level in, for example, "Brick walls are strong", "brick" is assigned the category label 'noun' and the functional label 'modifier'; "walls" is assigned the category label "noun" and functional label 'head'; "are" is category verb and function 'predicator', and "strong" is labelled 'adjective' and function 'complement'. – BillJ Dec 17 '16 at 14:37
  • Bill, nobody analyses clauses in real life. I'm fairly fluent in 2 human languages besides English, and can get by with a dictionary in perhaps a half-dozen more. All but one are self-taught. And I have NEVER analysed a clause since I was in secondary school where, sixty years ago, that idiotic practice was still imposed on the captive students. In the fourth year our English teacher said he was going to teach us logic and philosophy instead since parsing clauses is useless make-work. Every day I've been grateful for, and used, the principles of logic he taught us. They have value. – MMacD Dec 17 '16 at 14:54

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