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Grammar and the News: Nouns Modifying Nouns

Grammar and the News
Grammar and the News
Grammar and The News: Nouns Modifying Nouns
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Imagine you are looking at an American newspaper or news website. You read a few stories, and see terms such as health care, football game or bank policy.
These terms might all seem to have nothing in common, but they share a grammatical feature. This feature is often found in writing – especially in newswriting.

Today we will explore a pattern you will often find in the news business: nouns modifying, or describing, other nouns. Understanding this idea will not only help your reading skills, but also help develop your writing skills.
Join us as we explore a common pattern in news reporting!

An adjective is a word that describes, or modifies, a noun or pronoun. Consider this example:

Everyday Grammar is a good program.

Here, the adjective good describes the noun program. A noun is a word that is the name of something. That thing could be a person, idea, place or action.
Sometimes nouns can act like adjectives. In other words, they change the meaning of other nouns. Listen to this example:

Everyday Grammar is a grammar program.

Here, the word grammar, a noun, is acting like an adjective. It is modifying the noun program. For the purposes of this report, we will call this pattern a 'noun-noun pairing.'

We have discussed this subject before in another Everyday Grammar program, which you can find on the VOA Learning English website. It is called When Nouns Act Like Adjectives.

News stories

You might be asking yourself: how does this discussion relate to news reporting?
Susan Conrad and Douglas Biber are grammar experts. They note that in newswriting, nouns that act like adjectives are almost as common as adjectives themselves.

In other words, understanding groupings of 'noun-noun' words is an important skill to have when reading news stories.

The good news for English learners is that there are patterns in how news writers use these pairings. Nouns that relate to abstract entities - things that you cannot really see - are often modified by other nouns. Examples include descriptions of organizations, businesses, or even human health.

Now, let me take you on a tour of a news website and offer a few examples.


Our first stop is the newspaper’s current events section. In this area, you often find stories about government institutions, cities, courts and so on.

Noun-noun pairings are often used to identify institutions, write Conrad and Biber.

Let’s consider how nouns are used in that manner.

One example is the word government.

Here is a line from a story on the VOA Learning English website:

“Estonia has launched a project to make government administration completely digital.”

Here, the noun government is acting like an adjective. It is modifying another noun, administration.

Other nouns you might find in the current events section include city, state, hospital and community.

For example, you often hear reports about a state subsidy or a court case. Now, you know the grammar behind such terms!


Our next stop on the news tour is the business section. It is another place where readers often find nouns modifying other nouns.
Consider this report from The New York Times newspaper.
The story is called:

"China Pledges Openness in Hopes of Reaching a Trade Deal"

Here, trade deal is the structure we would like to draw your attention to. Trade is the noun that is - you guessed it! – modifying the word deal. The story talks about China's desire to end a trade war with the United States. Yes, trade war is also an example of a noun-noun pairing.

Company profits, labor supply, and market forces, are other examples that you will often see in business news.


Our final stop on this tour is the health section. We start by listening to part of a VOA story called “More Americans Died From Drugs in 2016 Than Any Year Before.”
The story tells about a statement that U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made to reporters:

"Rosenstein called it a “horrifying surge in drug overdoses." He added that drug abuse is wrecking families and communities throughout the U.S."

You heard the terms drug overdoses and drug abuse – both cases of nouns modifying other nouns.

The nouns drug, health and cancer are all used to modify other nouns. You will often read stories about drug tests, health care systems, cancer treatments and cancer drugs, for example.

Closing thoughts:

The next time you are reading news stories in English, try to look for examples of nouns modifying other nouns. Can you find some of the examples that we talked about today? Can you think of other examples?

You can find a list of common nouns used as modifiers with the text version of the story on our website,

We give you some examples, but there are many others. Try to record common noun-noun pairings that you find, along with the subjects they appear with. Over time, you will start to develop an impressive knowledge of news terms and expressions.

And that's Everyday Grammar.

I'm Jill Robbins.

And I'm John Russell.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.


Words in This Story

grammatical – adj. involving or related to the structure of language​
feature – n. an interesting or important part, quality or ability
pattern – n. the repeated way in which something happens or is done
tourn. a short trip or visit
manner – n. a way of doing things
digital – adj. using or characterized by computer technology
guessv. to estimate or make a prediction
horrify – v. to cause (someone) to feel horror or shock;
surgen. a sudden, large increase

Newspaper section

Nouns commonly used to modify or describe other nouns


Current Events:

government, court, community, state, city, church

government administration, government policy, court case, community planning, church groups


company, labor, market, insurance,


company profits, labor supply, market forces, insurance market, trade deal, trade war


health, drug, cancer

drug research, drug addiction, health system, health care, cancer drug, cancer research