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I have some questions about the following phrases:

  1. a picture of a naked woman
  2. a naked picture of a woman

On first reading, the second phrase seems wrong. The second phrase seems to be more popular online than the first phrase, however. Do the two phrases have the same meaning? How is the second valid?

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    It might be helpful if you listed some actual example sentences you found. This really needs some context. – user3169 Oct 1 '14 at 3:52
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    I don’t think this is unclear. I think meatie is having trouble understanding how the adjective “naked” is applied to “picture” in the latter phrasing, which is indeed very common. – Tyler James Young Oct 1 '14 at 18:26
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    @user3169 I disagree. In this case, either phrase is immediately recognized (by me, anyway) as a valid, ubiquitous construction. The question, as written, restricts the focus to the grammatical issue at hand. I’m going to edit the question to make that focus more clear. – Tyler James Young Oct 1 '14 at 18:50
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    This is called hypallage. – snailplane Oct 2 '14 at 1:26
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    @snailboat I would love to see an answer constructed around that knowledge. – Tyler James Young Oct 2 '14 at 14:54
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Although "naked pictures" seems to have a misplaced modifier (the photographed subject is naked, not the picture), the phrase is actually an everyday term for a category of photographs in which subjects are shown unclothed and typically in salacious poses. Compare "nudie pictures" or "nude pics".

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The first phrase is OK. We say a naked man, woman, body, etc. On the other hand, the appropriate word for a picture, movie, scene, beach, etc. involving naked people is nude. So we can say a nude picture of a woman instead of a naked picture of a woman.

I don't think that the second phrase is more popular than the first one. It sounds substandard if we say "a naked picture of a woman". It is true that the adjective naked is a synonym of nude, but they are usually used in different senses. I think we can say a nude or naked man or woman, but we can not use naked for a picture, painting, model, etc. representing a human figure in art or any place or thing involving people who are wearing no clothes (beach, scene, movie, etc.)

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  • Khan, I misunderstood this answer at first and was too quick to downvote. Kindly edit a word from this. I want to revoke my vote. My apology. – Maulik V Oct 1 '14 at 4:49
  • I edited to revoke/upvote this. Once again, I'm sorry. Good answer :) – Maulik V Oct 1 '14 at 9:36
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    “Nude” is certainly a valid alternative here, but its suggestion does not answer OP’s question about the fact that “naked picture” is almost as common despite not looking right. Ultimately you’re just reinforcing how the second sentence seems wrong, which OP already stated. – Tyler James Young Oct 1 '14 at 18:36
  • @Tyler, you are right. I am thinking it over. Thanks for your nice comments. – Khan Oct 2 '14 at 2:02
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Pictures of similar objects are often referred to as "[noun] pictures":

Beach pictures: Pictures of beaches

Bird pictures: Pictures of birds

Vacation pictures: Pictures of someone's vacation

Sunset pictures: Pictures of sunsets

Nude pictures: Pictures of nudes (naked people)

"Nude" is interesting -- it's a formal word for an informal concept. Look at the examples in the Oxford Dictionary. They're mostly about art. The examples for naked are much more emotional and metaphorical. "Naked" is an older word. Older words tend to be stronger.

Pictures of naked people are usually exciting or scandalous. In that context, a calm, respectable word like "nude" doesn't sound as good. So "nude pictures" becomes "naked pictures". It's grammatically wrong but artistically right.

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I'd vote for the first sentence though the second (in this context) looks quite okay!

The word naked serves as an adjective there. Interestingly, if you replace the adjective with any other adjective, the second sentence goes out of grammar.

A picture of a young woman
A young picture of a woman!

Agree with Khan. If you are talking about a picture or painting, nude word works there.

A nude painting (of a woman)

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  • Both sentences are fine, as you say. Substituting in different adjectives that make less sense or more sense when applied to “picture” does not address OP’s question or its basis (that “naked picture” makes perfect sense to people even though pictures don’t normally wear clothes). – Tyler James Young Oct 1 '14 at 18:42
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    Incidentally, I can envision scenarios where someone might describe a picture of themselves at a young age as a “young picture”. For instance, you know what I mean if I say, “My driver’s licence has a young picture of me. I have a beard now.” – Tyler James Young Oct 1 '14 at 18:45

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