english collocation
Thread poster: V_iris

English to Chinese
Apr 26, 2008

Here is a question for english experts which has been bothering me for quite a while.I've found that the collocation of single english words to form a more complicated noun phrase very confusing.
For example,as in the phrase instability factor, here why is the noun form instability used instead of the adj. form unstable?And why isn't a construction site referred to as a constructing site instead?I realized there are many designations in english that are composed of two or more words.When is the modifier a noun, an adj,or a verb? Is there any linguistic rule to follow or are they just arbitrary set phrases and we have to memorise each of them respectively?
Looking forward to your kind replies.


Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:34
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
instability factor vs. instable factor Apr 26, 2008

An instability factor is a factor that determines instability, while an instable factor is a factor that is instable.

[Bearbeitet am 2008-04-26 12:44]


Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:34
German to English
Noun adjunct - noun + noun Apr 26, 2008

I found this explanation that may help.

In English we can put two nouns together. The first noun is used as an adjective to modify the second noun and is called a noun adjunct. The first noun is almost always singular because it follows the rule for adjectives, which do not have plural forms in English.
N1 N2 can mean that
a. N1 is a kind of N2 (a grammar book is a kind of book)
b. N1 is an object of an implied verb (an apple tree is a tree that produces apples)
It is important to understand that N2 is the thing and N1 is the kind or type:
a rose bush is a bush
a wrist watch is a watch
computer paper is paper


instability factor: a factor that produces instability
construction site: a kind of site


Rad Graban  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:34
English to Slovak
+ ...
Not that easy for non-native speaker Apr 26, 2008


Have a look at this website. Very basic, but worth it.




Jim Tucker (X)  Identity Verified
United States
Hungarian to English
+ ...
any noun in English can be used as an adjective Apr 26, 2008

...if you put it in front of another noun. Face cream, city government, dog food, telephone call....

In these sentences, "face," " city," " dog," and " telephone" are not nouns any more, at least functionally. They are adjectives.


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:34
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Some times you can, sometimes you can't :-) Apr 26, 2008

V_iris wrote:
For example, as in the phrase "instability factor", here why is the noun form instability used instead of the adj. form unstable?

That is because "instability" isn't really an adjective (although several grammars I have seen would have indicated it as such). There is a very simplistic test for real adjectives that also work in many cases in English: if you can't use the suspected adjective attributively with no or only minimal change and with no change in meaning, then it aint a real adjective -- then it is often part of the noun.

For example, is "wooden" an adjective in "This is a wooden table"? Ask yourself if "This table is wooden" would have exactly the same meaning. If not, it aint an real adjective in the first sentence. As it happens, saying "this table is wooden" would be acceptable English but it doesn't have the same meaning as "this is a wooden table". Okay, that may be difficult example, because the attributive use still makes sense. Let's try an example in which the attributive use is non-sensical. Take "ballroom" in "This is ballroom dancing". Can you say "This dancing is ballroom"? No? Then it aint an adjective.

This is an instability factor x this factor is instability. Not an adjective.
This is an unstable factor x this factor is unstable. Yes, an adjective, but this doesn't mean the same as "instability factor".

And why isn't a construction site referred to as a constructing site instead?

The term "constructing site" would actually make sense, but the fact of the matter is that the other term, "construction site", is far more common (in fact, the former is also acceptable English but it is so uncommon that people will be baffled by it).

Is there any linguistic rule to follow or are they just arbitrary set phrases and we have to memorise each of them respectively?

There are rules, and there are exceptions to the rules. And there are also rules of thumb (the above rule is an example of a rule of thumb -- very simplistic, and it might or might not work in a few, some or most cases).

Looking forward to your kind replies.

My reply isn't kind. But this is just another example to show that language isn't logical, isn't it? You use the word "kind", even though you don't mean kindness.icon_smile.gif


English to Chinese
Thank you all :> Apr 27, 2008

I posted this question last night and I am thrilled to find so many replies with so detailed explanations.They are of great help to me.I'm feeling less confused though not completely clear(well ,is it completely or totally or thoroughly?i'm feeling more timid in using modifiers now.) Anyway, thank you all for your kindness.And I mean it, Samuel.icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2008-04-27 03:38]


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