Compound noun, noun phrase, complex adjective, appositive

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Senior Member
English (British and Australian)
I have started a new thread about something tangential to Scar's thread on hyphenation.

My uncertainty in the What is this called, and does it require hyphens? thread stems from Scar's question about hyphenation. It dawned upon me during that discussion that the aforementioned compound nouns in my question in that thread and their like constructs are really just noun phrases with little lines between the words. So I was thinking it must just be a matter of increased common usage over time which has redefined certain phrases into compound nouns and the hyphenation is inserted to acknowledge this (jack-of-all-trades). Furthermore I realised that if Scar shifted his noun phrase slightly to the left then the phrase becomes an appositive noun (Bob, a noodle of a boy).

I do end up (embarrassingly) perplexed and confused sometimes about the identification of compound nouns, noun phrases, complex adjectives and appositives used in different positions. When a compound noun is used as a complex adjective then which one is it? Similarly, if a compound noun is used as an appositive noun after another compound noun being used as a complex adjective, how do we correctly identify the parts of speech in such constructions?

For instance, 'His six-pack abs impressed the ladies' and 'This mother-of-pearl teacup, a hand-me-down, has been in the family for three generations now'. Or worse still, 'His impressive physique, the six-pack abs and massive guns, had Sally swooning.' Do we simply accumulate terms to define 'six-pack' used thus as an appositive complex adjectival compound noun? That sounds patently absurd to me.

Any takers? :)
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    A complex issue, and one I often have to think about when deciding whether to hyphenate, and one I have no simple answers for. I'll mention one criterion that is sometimes helpful for drawing a boundary. If two words can be freely separated for some purposes, they can be regarded as a syntactic complex, not a morphological compound. One such purpose is coordination. So by this criterion record player is not a compound, because we can freely talk about record, CD, and tape players.

    Another is internal modification. If gun dogs, sheep dogs, and lap dogs required different kinds of food, would we call them gun dog food, sheep dog food, lap dog food? I think so, so dog food is also not a compound, because one element of it can be freely modified. (Memo to self: think of better example.)
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