Are walking stick, dining table, dining hall, hummingbird, banyan tree, blackboard, etc. considered to be nouns or adjective plus nouns?

In other words:

What is the head noun in the noun phrase, The banyan tree in our garden ? Banyan tree? Or tree?

The sunset is very attractive. What is the head noun in the subject position? Sunset?, Sun? Or set?

  • Sunset is quite clear to be the subject, because it is one word. Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 19:16
  • @krobelusmeetsyndra What about hummingbird and blackboard? Aren't they single words? My question is whether such compound nouns should be treated as noun alone or adjective+noun? Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 19:24
  • Yes, they are single words. What I meant is that single words like hummingbird, blackboard and sunset are nouns, only. I cannot answer for the other ones. Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 19:27

2 Answers 2


These are compound nouns. Some compound nouns are written as one word "sunset" some are written as two "dining table". But whether written as one word or two, they function as a single noun.

The dining table is large.

The subject is "dining table" The word "dining" is not an adjective as it can't be compared or graded. You can't have a "very dining table" nor a "more dining table". So "dining" is not an adjective.

  • But "dining" is a participle and can be used as an adjective. There is no verb "burning table." The participle "burning" modifies the noun "table" and so is used as an adjective even though it has no comparative or superlative form. Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 19:51
  • 1
    "dining" isn't a participle either. You can say "A table that is burning" but you can't say "A table that is dining"
    – James K
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 20:16
  • What part of speech do you think "dining" is? Looks like a present participle of "dine" to me. "We were dining." Is it a noun, a pronoun, a conjunction, an adverb, a preposition, an exclamation? Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 22:04

Certain combinations of words are put together so often that they are treated as a single compound word. "Sunset" is one such word, where the compounding is so far advanced that the two component words are physically joined together when spelled, which matches the lack of any pause between the two words in speech. "Dining table" is another such compound, but the spelling does not reflect it. However, in speech, there is little or no noticeable pause between "dining" and "table." A phrase like "burning table" is pronounced with a slight pause between the words, and "burning table" is not considered a compound noun, but rather a noun modified by a participle used as an adjective.

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