Some of the pain patients may become hooked. Or their meds may find their way to friends or relatives who take them recreationally. Or a prescription opioid user may transition to heroin. “Heroin is just another opioid drug, so the brain doesn’t distinguish whether it comes from a pharmacy or from a street drug dealer.

In the first sentence is "pain" used as an adjective? Can you grammatically explain the sentence?

  • 1
    "Pain" is always a noun. In "pain patients", it is being used as a complement. The meaning is "the patients receiving pain treatment".
    – BillJ
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 9:44
  • Pain patients receive pain treatments in the pain wing of the hospital. The pain killers they receive are often addictive. Their pain meds often find their way to friends and relatives and household members.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 16:16
  • @BillJ: Are so-called "compound nouns" in languages like German (e.g. Schmerzmittel) analyzed in the same way?
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 16:22
  • I don't take "pain patient" to be a compound noun. I think it's better to define compounds as single words, often lexicalised. So I'd take "pain patient" as a syntactic construction, a nominal consisting of "patient" as head" and "pain" as complement. I'm not German-savvy.
    – BillJ
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 19:03

1 Answer 1


In the first sentence, 'pain' is an ascriptive noun. An ascriptive noun placed before another noun ascribes (assigns) a quality to it. A pain patient is a patient being treated for pain. Compare: a heart patient, a cancer patient, a burn patient, an overdose patient, an office chair, a Kyoto man.

  • 1
    We can rewrite phrases with ascriptive nouns, reversing the order: a pain patient: a patient being treated for pain; an office chair: a chair designed for use in an office; a beer glass: a glass intended for use when drinking beer. Ascriptive noun phrases have the merit of brevity. Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 9:29
  • do you mean en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noun_adjunct by the ascriptive noun? Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 16:32
  • Other names for an ascriptive noun are noun adjunct, attributive noun and noun (pre)modifier. Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 18:26

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