Using nouns as adjectives causes a few errors with the plural ‘s’.
In this lesson, you will learn ONE quick tip that will fix (almost) everything.
Most of the time, you are not aware you’re using nouns as adjectives e.g. in compound nouns like
- car park (= a place to park CARS)
- dog food (= food for DOGS)
- shoe shop (= a shop that sells SHOES)
- toothpaste (= a paste for TEETH)
- football (= a game where you kick the ball with your FEET)
- town centre (= the centre of the town)
But sometimes they cause problems, as you can see below.
To get more information, you can google:
- nouns that act like adjectives
- noun-like adjectives
- nouns as adjectives
- attributive nouns
- noun modifiers
- adjectival nouns
- compound nouns
Also see my lesson relating to hyphens in compound nouns.
Problems with nouns as adjectives
Look at the list of errors below. Can you see what the main problem is?
- There are different categories of movies’ genres.
- Factories’ waste should be subject to stricter measures.
- The noodles discs are dried.
- This will reduce human’s diseases.
- A drop in tourist’s rates.
- Many company’s managers are often criticized for their high salary.
- If the compensation’s gap is reduced they might have less of a sense of unfairness.
- More governments’ investment is needed.
- A flowers’ garden has been built.
- Solving world’s hunger is a priority.
- Genetic’s scientists were able to modify the genes.
- Vehicles horns create disturbance.
- I found it in an antiques’ shop
- There are different categories of movie genres.
- Factory waste should be subject to stricter measures.
- The noodle discs are dried.
- This will reduce human diseases.
- A drop in tourist rates.
- Many company managers are often criticized for their high salary.
- If the compensation gap is reduced they might have less of a sense of unfairness.
- More governments investment is needed.
- A flower garden has been built.
- Solving world hunger is a priority.
- Genetic scientists were able to modify the genes.
- Vehicle horns create disturbance.
- I found this watch in an antique shop.
So what is the simple tip?
When you use nouns as adjectives, don’t put ‘s’ on the noun before the noun!
The ‘normal’ adjective rules are very simple.
Adjectives describe nouns, for example
- a nice day
- beautiful weather
- a hot cup of tea
- a sunny beach
But nouns describe nouns too.
Unlike normal adjectives, these ‘nouns as adjectives’ can go:
BEFORE the noun e.g. heart disease
AFTER the noun (with a preposition) e.g. disease OF the heart
Like ‘normal’ adjectives, these ‘noun-like adjectives’ do not need any kind of ‘s’ (plural or possessive).
A soup made of carrots = carrot soup
carrots soup carrot’s soup carrots’ soup
A park for cars = a car park
a cars park a car’s park a cars’ park
Prepositions: ‘in’ ‘of’ and ‘for’
Let’s look at the 3 most common prepositions that ‘create’ noun-like adjectives ‘in’ ‘of’ and ‘for’.
- A road in the country = a country road
- A party in the street = a street party
- The Underground in London = the London Underground
- Currents in the ocean = ocean currents
- An account in a bank = a bank account
- The centre of town = the town centre
- The church of the village = the village church
- the floor of the kitchen = the kitchen floor
- The pocket of my coat = my coat pocket
- The door of the car = the car door
- The management of water = water management
- The temperature of the sea = sea temperature
- The Department of Education = the Education Department
- A book of grammar = a grammar book
- A tax of sugar = a sugar tax
- Forces of the market = market forces
- A member of a team = a team member
- A teacher of English = an English teacher
- The wealth of the world = world wealth
- The crisis of refugees = The refugee crisis
(= for the purpose of)
- Shoes for running = running shoes
- A shop for shoes = a shoe shop
- A cup for tea = tea cup
- A room for beds = a bedroom
- Food for dogs = dog food
- A chain for a bicycle = a bicycle chain
from (= source)
- Books from a library = library books
- Paintings from/of/by Picasso = Picasso paintings
- Work at the weekend = weekend work
- School in the summer = summer school
- School on Sunday = Sunday school
- Damage by water = water damage
- Erosion by soil = soil erosion
- Purchases by consumers = consumer purchases
- Activity by criminals = criminal activity
- A magazine about movies = a movie magazine
Measurements and materials
We saw examples of measurements in my previous blog about hyphens e.g.
- over 10 years = over a 10-year period
- A journey which takes 3 hours = a 3-hour journey
- An essay of 250 words = a 250-word essay
- He’s 4 years old./ He’s a 4-year-old boy.
- This house has 2 bedrooms./ This is a 2-bedroom house.
Time nouns after ‘a/an’ need ‘s’ – an hour’s delay, a moment’s hesitation
- 3 days’ wait/ a 3-day wait
The examples relating to materials are well-known e.g
- a cube made of ice = ice cube
- a cup made of plastic = a plastic cup
- a wall made of bricks = a brick wall
Nouns ending in ‘-er/-or’ and ‘ing’
- Someone who owns cars = a car owner
- Someone who manufactures cars = a car manufacturer
- Someone who directs films = a film director
- Something to peel potatoes = a potato peeler
- a list for shopping = a shopping list
- a pool for swimming = a swimming pool
- a machine for washing = a washing machine
- a stick for walking = a walking stick
- a holiday for walking = a walking holiday
Exceptions and alternatives
In the ‘nouns as adjectives’ list of errors above, we saw that you do NOT need any kind of ‘s’ (no possessive ‘s’ or plural ‘s’).
However, there are some exceptions.
Plural ‘s’ is used in these examples:
- a clothes shop
- the ladies room
- a sports car
- the arms race
- a singles bar
- a news editor
- an admissions policy,
- a maths lesson (U.S. – Math lesson)
- sales figures
- materials design
- customs officers
Possessive ‘s’ is used with these irregular plurals:
- children’s literature
- women’s rights
Possessive ‘s’ is also correct in these examples (both options are correct):
- a summer day = a summer‘s day
- The rays of the sun = the sun‘s rays
- The milk of cows = cows’ milk
- A day for Mothers = Mothers’ Day
- Shakespeare plays = Shakespeare‘s plays
- The influence of television = television‘s influence
- The government’s policy (‘government’ is a noun here, so we need possessive ‘s’ = of the government)
- Government policy (‘government’ is an adjective here, so no possessive ‘s’ is required)
- Water management (general)
- The management of water (specific)
Many nouns are also adjectives e.g.
human, chemical, adult, alternative, classic, individual, minimum, transport, professional, male, female, animal, wildlife.
Other mistakes that occur, often in Speaking, are:
- Advice about health = health advice (not
- A course about photography = a photography course (not
If you just take away one thing from this lesson, it is that you should think twice about using an ‘s’ on words that describe nouns.
Keep it simple and drop the ‘s’.
If you’d like to look at the topic in more depth, I found this GUINLIST blog immensely useful and I am indebted to Paul Fanning for helping me understand the issues and for his excellent examples.
Find a simple but useful British Council guide to noun modifiers here.
This EnglishClub blog also has a simple list.
Tressa Baby says
My doubt is, in phrases like Wonder Woman, miracle grain, etc., are ‘wonder’ and ‘miracle’ adjectives? What are they called?
I’m not sure if there’s a technical word for them, but they are adjectives in examples like “a wonder drug” or “a miracle cure”.
Let me know if you find a technical word please!
Many thanks for your question and for taking the time to explain it so clearly.
As you correctly point out, the gap needs an adjective to describe the experts.
Adjectives never take a plural ‘s’, so these people are ‘computer experts’, not ‘computers* experts’.
There are lots of examples that you use everyday without thinking about it (see more in the blog), for example, a park (noun) for cars (plural noun) becomes a ‘carpark’ (not a ‘cars* park’).
The noun (‘car’) becomes an adjective when it comes before the noun (‘park’) because it’s describing the kind of park it is.
I hope that helps but please let me know if you have any other questions after you’ve read the blog,
Tabassum Shamim says
while solving the questions for IELTS listening from the book:
” The Official Cambridge guide to IELTS FOR ACADEMIC AND GENERAL TRAINING ”
I faced a difficulty to agree with a reason of one of the incorrect answer .
(The addressed question is under the NB at the end of the comment. )
3.2 Listen to an extract from a conversation and answer the question below.
Complete the sentence below with NO MORE THAN ONE WORD AND/OR
The expo will be useful because there will be more than _________ experts there.
3.3 Now look at the answers that different candidate wrote. Tick the correct answers. Why are the other answers incorrect?
• two hundred and fivety computer
• 250 computer
• Two hundred and fifty computers
• over 250 computer
• 250 computer experts
• over 250 experts
• two hundred and fifty computer
• two hundred and fivety computer x (the number is spelt incorrectly)
• 250 computer (correct)
• Two hundred and fifty computers x (there should be no ‘s’ on computer- it’s an adjective here)
• over 250 computer x (this is two words not one; over is not necessary because more than is already in the sentence.)
• 250 computer experts x (this is two words not one; experts is not necessary because it is already in the sentence)
• over 250 experts x (this is two words not on; the words over and experts are not necessary)
• two hundred and fifty computer (correct)
• 250 (correct)
below is the addressed question from the above answer key:
Two hundred and fifty computers x (there should be no ‘s’ on computer- it’s
an adjective here)
could you please assist me why
1. There should be no ‘s’ on computer ?
2. How is it an adjective here?
3. How can a noun be converted in to an adjective?