I am currently writing a paper on British newspaper articles; however, I keep on encountering constructions such as:

"Student Jacob was in Italy" or "jailed Samantha said yesterday..."

where words that my books say are nouns seem to be being used as adjectives? I would be grateful if someone could tell me if these nouns, in these instances, become adjectives?

  • 3
    Student is an attributive noun. Jailed is not a noun at all; it is a past/passive participle employed as an adjective. May 21, 2015 at 14:14
  • 1
    Your student is an attributive noun usage, but jailed could never be a noun - it's a past participle used as attributive adjective May 21, 2015 at 14:14
  • @StoneyB: Snap! (Or "Jinx", as I believe the younger generation say! :) May 21, 2015 at 14:15
  • @FumbleFingers Your response is clearly superior, since you took the trouble to post links to definitions. May 21, 2015 at 14:16
  • 3
    "jailed could never be a noun"... never, ever, ever? The jailed started a riot. — I'm the first to admit it's not the most beautiful English, but you can use a lot of past participles as nouns, if you really want to. (Whether you should want to is another matter.)
    – oerkelens
    May 21, 2015 at 14:21

1 Answer 1


To answer your question simply: an attributive noun is still a noun, it does not become an adjective.

As several commenters have noted, student is being used as an attributive noun, and jailed is being used as an attributive adjective. This doesn't change their classification. Let's take them one at a time.

First, we have "Student Jacob..." with student as an attributive noun. Student is still a description of a (type of) person, even though it is adding itself as an attribute to the proper noun of Jacob. Take it alone, without the proper noun, and we still have a proper sentence: "A student was in Italy."

Next, we have "Jailed Samantha..." with jailed as an attributive adjective. The phrase of Jailed Samantha may be part of a noun phrase, but the word jailed is still an adjective.

As brought up by the commenters, there is another related type of adjective called a Nominalized Adjective which can be used in place of a noun. Take the following sentence:

Jailed protesters began a hunger strike, insisting on joining the freed.

Both jailed and freed are adjectives describing protesters. The first one, jailed, is an attributive adjective and is part of the noun phrase Jailed protesters. Freed is a nominalized adjective which also describes the protesters, but is being used in place of a noun.

Most importantly, however, if the words protesters and the were removed from the example sentence, it would no longer make sense. Attributive adjectives and nominalized adjectives still have to define or qualify nouns, even if the definition or qualification is implied.

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