I have an issue with how can I distinguish between attributive nouns and compound nouns especially with separated words of compound?

What are the similarities and differences between them?

As you know compound nouns have three types:

  1. separated words: bus stop, apple tree
  2. closed or single words: firefly
  3. hyphenated: dry-cleaning

Some sites says apple tree is an attributive and other says is compound, but I've read in a website that both compound and attributive nouns don't accept s plural to the main word as a general rule and in compound nouns the main word is stressed but in attributive nouns both words is stressed.

Am I right?

1 Answer 1


If you can remove the first word and the sentence's meaning does not change, it is an attributive noun.

If you cannot remove the first word without changing the meaning of the sentence, it is a compound noun.

Example: The White House.... This is a compound noun because 'the house' is not the White House.

Let's dig a bit deeper on your apple example:

Apple tree is both an attributive noun and a compound noun, but not both at the same time.

This is because:

  1. The precise name for an apple tree is apple tree (compound).
  2. If the type of tree is not important to the meaning of the statement, then apple tree is an attribute noun.


  • 'Which one of these trees is an apple tree?' Compound. Reason: this is compound because if I remove the word apple, the sentence is meaningless.
  • 'I leaned against an apple tree and ate my lunch this afternoon.' Attributive. Reason: this is attributive because the type of tree does not matter. 'I leaned against a tree and ate my lunch this afternoon' has the same meaning.
  • I like much of this answer, but I'm not sure on the final example. Adjectives are attributive, but I can say "Which person is a happy person?" Happy is an adjective, and there is no compound "happy-person"
    – James K
    May 1, 2021 at 20:50

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