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In grammar, a noun adjunct or attributive noun or noun (pre)modifier is an optional noun that modifies another noun, meaning that it can be removed without changing the grammar of the sentence; it is a noun functioning as an adjective. For example, in the phrase "chicken soup" the noun adjunct "chicken" modifies the noun "soup". It is irrelevant whether the resulting compound noun is spelled in one or two parts. "Field" is a noun adjunct in both "field player" and "fieldhouse".
Adjectival noun is a term that was formerly synonymous with noun adjunct but is now usually used to mean an adjective used as a noun (i.e. the opposite process, as in "the Irish," meaning "Irish people"). Japanese adjectival nouns are a different concept.
Noun adjuncts were traditionally mostly singular (e.g. "trouser press") except when there were lexical restrictions (e.g. "arms race"), but there is a recent trend towards more use of plural ones, especially in UK English. Many of these can also be and/or were originally interpreted and spelled as plural possessives (e.g. "chemicals' agency", "writers' conference", "Rangers' hockey game"), but they are now often written without the apostrophe, although this is criticised by some authorities.
Fowler's Modern English Usage states in the section "POSSESSIVE PUZZLES": "6. Five years' imprisonment, Three weeks' holiday, etc. Years and weeks may be treated as possessives and given an apostrophe or as adjectival nouns without one. The former is perhaps better, as to conform to what is inevitable in the singular – a year's imprisonment, a fortnight's holiday."
Noun adjuncts can also be strung together in a longer sequence preceding the final noun, with each added noun modifying the noun which follows it, in effect creating a mutiple-word noun adjunct which modifies the following noun (e.g. "chicken soup bowl", in which "chicken" modifies "soup" and "chicken soup" modifies "bowl"). There is no theoretical limit to the number of noun adjuncts which can be added before a noun, and very long constructions are occasionally seen, for example "Dawlish pub car park cliff plunge man rescued" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-26010026), in which "Dawlish", "pub", "car park", "cliff", and "plunge" are all noun adjuncts. They could each be removed successively (starting at the beginning of the sentence) without changing the grammar of the sentence.
- LinguaLinks page on noun adjuncts
- Noun adjuncts in the Columbia Guide to Standard American English
- Possessives and attributives, Chicago Manual of Style Online
- Dictionary.com Word FAQs - What is the difference between an attributive noun and an adjective?