I would like to get the answer for this question from an English native speaker.

In my mother language, which is Aramaic, we always use the adjectives and the attributive nouns after the noun being modified. That is the contrary to the English language which pre-adjective and attributive nouns come before the modified noun.

The process in my head goes like as if I am counting down 5,4,3...etc instead of counting up. As a result it become harder but i digress.

Let’s move to my main point. My question regards the attributive noun. The drawing below illustrates the mechanism used to modified the noun by the attributive ones.

enter image description here

I want just to know which one is right. I know that adjectives have a specific order, what about the “attributive nouns”, do they:

  • 1) modify the noun it follows ? Or
  • 2) modify the first noun?
  • Can you try to convert the picture to text. Pictures can't be indexed, searched or read by screenreaders for the blind.
    – James K
    Oct 28, 2018 at 9:48
  • @JamesK -- I like the picture. The picture's example #2 is much easier to understand than the original poster's attempt to put it into words.
    – Jasper
    Oct 28, 2018 at 10:39
  • When you write "first noun", do you mean the most important noun in the noun phrase? Your picture shows that the most important noun is the last noun in the phrase, not the first noun.
    – Jasper
    Oct 28, 2018 at 10:42

1 Answer 1


Long chains of attributive nouns are usually avoided. When they do occur each noun tends to modify the noun it follows. However there is some ambiguity, and context and pragmatic understanding always are more important than logic or rules.

For example: "I received a chicken soup bowl as my family birthday present."

This is probably a bowl for "chicken soup", not a "soup bowl" for chickens. It is a birthday present from the family, not a present received on my "family birthday" I know this because families don't have birthdays and chickens don't drink soup from a bowl!

Usually, we would avoid the chain of nouns and say "I received a bowl for chicken soup from my family as a birthday present."

Long chains of nouns are more common in Headlinese: Wikipedia gives an example:

Dawlish pub car park cliff plunge man rescued

in which "plunge" modifies "man", "cliff" modifies "plunge", "car park" (a compound noun) modifes cliff, "pub" modifies "car park" and the town name "Dawlish" modifies "pub".

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