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Adjective or noun?

A golden spoon or A gold spoon

What to use? A spoon is made of gold.

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Dictionary says:

golden (adjective) -made of gold

But then... (the same page)

golden (adjective) - bright yellow in colour like gold

So, what should we prefer while referring to a spoon made of gold?

10

Idiomatically, if we are referring to the spoon made of gold with the emphasis on it being a high quality gold spoon, and not just a gold-colored spoon, we call it a "gold spoon". Similarly, when a buyer is interested in buying something made of gold, they want a gold spoon, a gold ring, a gold necklace, a gold watch, etc.

Note that "gold" is both a noun (the substance/element gold) and an adjective (the color gold). Nouns can "act like an adjective" to modify another noun; this is called a noun adjunct. So a "gold necklace" is "a necklace of gold (the metal)", and a "gold spoon" is a "spoon made of gold". See also attributive nouns.

But "gold" can also be an adjective for the color of gold! So how does one know if your "gold spoon" is a NOUN-spoon containing the element Au (gold) or just happens to be an ADJECTIVE-spoon, like a plastic gold spoon from a box of gold-colored utensils? That has to be resolved by context.

Golden is an adjective describing the color gold (golden hair), made of gold (a golden crown), or metaphorical qualities of gold, such as success or prosperity as in "golden opportunities" (See google definition). While gold can be used for similar connotations, golden is more deeply connected to its metaphorical connotations, and is used to "sound fancy" or metaphorical as above.

One might describe eating at a fancy feast "using a golden spoon encrusted with diamonds", which very well may be gold-plated or better. In this case, referring to it as a "gold spoon" would sound too objective and plain.

  • This is a good answer but to be clear, if you're referring only to the object's color use the suffix -colored, i.e. a gold-colored spoon. People then know the spoon is not made of gold, but simply has the appearance of gold. – Andrew May 2 '18 at 15:59
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Gold is a noun. It mainly refers to a type of metal, but it can also refer to the color associated with that metal, and is occasionally used figuratively as well.

Like all nouns, gold can function attributively, modifying a following noun. When it does, it usually has the "metal" meaning, often specifying the material the following noun is made of (gold watch, gold chains, gold bullion, gold foil, gold coin, gold dust) although other semantic relationships are possible (gold mine, gold market, gold rush), and the color meaning is possible as well, especially when the head noun is associated with color (gold paint, gold color, gold crayon).


Golden is a derived adjective. The -en suffix attaches to a noun and forms an adjective, which generally means either "made of 〜" or "resembling 〜", often figuratively.

Although the adjective can be used with the "made of gold" meaning (golden coins, golden eggs), it's most commonly used for the "resembling gold" meaning (golden age, Golden Gate, golden hair, golden color, Golden Retriever, golden years, golden rule, golden opportunity, golden girls).

When used in the sense "made of gold", the noun is a more likely choice. Gold spoon is more common than golden spoon when referring to an actual physical spoon made of gold.

  • May I use 'a spoon of gold' to avoid ambiguity? What do you think of that structure? Is it weird or odd? – Maulik V May 23 '14 at 11:04
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    In theory yes, but it does sound weird, or perhaps just old-fashioned. If you're going to use a larger phrase like that, "a spoon made of gold" would be more natural. – snailcar May 23 '14 at 11:34
  • I feel that a spoon of gold means something totally different. You may use your--say--wooden spoon to get a spoon of gold, just like a spoon of soup (of borscht). You may have a bowl of gold sand. Etc. Am I wrong? – Włodzimierz Holsztyński Oct 22 '14 at 5:29
  • @WłodzimierzHolsztyński Oh, in the right context it could have that meaning, although gold needs to be rather hot to become a liquid. – snailcar Oct 22 '14 at 7:22
  • Not hot. Just a bowl of gold crumbs. Can be cold :-) – Włodzimierz Holsztyński Oct 22 '14 at 8:29
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"Gold spoon" implies the spoon is (substantially) made of gold.

"Golden spoon" describes the spoons appearance, not what it is made of.

A gold spoon would normally be "golden" as well (unless given some unusual surface treatment), but given the many ways of faking the appearance, "golden spoon" has no implication about its actual substance.

Few people would regard a gold-plated spoon as a "gold spoon" though it certainly would be a "golden spoon".

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