A noun adjunct is a noun that modifies another noun. For example, the word "baby" in the phrase "baby food" is a noun adjunct. In this simple case, you can translate it into Spanish as "comida de bebé".

I'm not sure how you do it for longer chains of noun adjuncts, or phrases that have adjectives and noun adjuncts. How would you translate phrases like these into Spanish?

  • Little lion man
  • Car insurance customer claim rate
  • Natural conservation engineering junior merit badge
  • Turkey pan holder salesman annual salary
  • 1
    Great examples, noun adjunct question asker man!
    – jrdioko
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 17:34

5 Answers 5


Although I agree that the preposition "de" is overused, particularly by non-native Speakers, adjectives are equally underused by native speakers of English, as many of these chains could actually be considered adjevtives.

Consider the following example:

Railroad worker - Trabajador (n) de ferrocarril (n)

While this is technically correct, it is symptomatic of the overuse of "de", and for that matter all other prepositions. More eloquently you could say:

Railroad worker - Trabajador (n) ferroviario (adj)

High-brow Spanish also makes use of more proper Latin-derived nouns and adjectives as well.

Worker accident rate - Frecuencia (n) de accidentes (n) de trabajadores (n)

Worker accident rate - Frecuencia (n) de accidentes (n) laborales (adj)

Worker accident rate - Siniestralidad (n) laboral (adj)

Now, for one of yours.

Car insurance customer claim rate - Tasa (n) de reclamaciones (n) al seguro (n) de automóvil (n) del cliente (n) *I don't think a Spanish speaker would ever say something like this

Car insurance customer claim rate - Siniestralidad (n) automovilistica (adj) del cliente (n)

Car insurance customer claim rate - Siniestralidad (n) automovilistica (adj) personal (adj)

For this reason, a lot of things written in English and translated to Spanish look excessively long and convoluted when translated by someone doing word-for-word translation.

  • 1
    Very interesting comparison! This might make me think twice in the future when translating.
    – jrdioko
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 14:03

You first example ("baby food" = "comida de/para bebé") shows the general (not universal) rule: invert the nouns, join them with a preposition - normally "de", but also "para", "a", "por" ...

Really, the preposition "de" is overused in Spanish, but here the blame does not fall upon the Spanish speakers, but upon the language itself. English is in general more plastic, it's more satisfactory for building this kind of construction. In Spanish it's a little painful:

Turkey pan holder salesman annual salary

Salario anual del vendedor de sostenes de ollas de(para) pavo.


As the other answerers said, usually you can invert the nouns and put de between them, sometimes replacing de algo with an adjective.

In the real world, however, many people—especially in writing—omit de. They would instead write comida bebés, trabajador ferrocarril, or even tasa reclamaciones seguro automóvil cliente!

Me caga, but it is what it is. People write stuff like that in the real world all the time. Even in contexts like business communications: we've all heard that you need to use good grammar and spelling in situations where you want to "look professional," but many people don't bother. So, you should be prepared to understand it when you see it, because you will.

(I asked about this phenomenon in Two nouns in a row, or, is it OK to omit "de"?. Diego and Eduardo are correct that, prescriptively speaking, it is wrong. Of course, descriptivists may view the matter differently.)

  • 1
    Programmers, including myself, tend to write object properties names without the "de" preposition. This way the name is shorter. Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 22:34
  • We do this in Andalucía, I thought it was it was a feature of andaluz. Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 23:00
  • Where have you seen that, besides in computer filenames?
    – FGSUZ
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 16:57
  • @FGSUZ I can't tell whom you're asking, but the answer is that you'll see it in writing all over the place: product packaging, signs, business email, you name it. Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 19:59
  • 1
    Opps, true, I forgot to cite @AlfredoOsorio, it was for him. Anyways, can you guys give some examples? For me, they sound wrong.
    – FGSUZ
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 20:51

There are ways of collapsing uncomfortably long chains, for example:

  • los ferrocarrileros (railroad workers)

  • in a paragraph about car insurance: índice de reclamaciones (or the lovely siniestralidad already proposed)

  • medalla ingeniería de conservación (But in a conversation among boy scouts, the "medalla" part will probably be clear from the context, and "ingeniería de conservación" will be enough, and perhaps even just "ingeniería" or "conservación.")

  • in a paragraph about annual salaries: salario del vendepaveros

But what actually is a turkey pan holder? I know what a turkey pan is -- it's a large baking pan. It might be sturdy, easily washable and designed to be reused, or it might be crinkly, hard to wash, and designed for single use. What's the holder? Maybe there's a special frame that the baking pan fits in, and you're supposed to serve the baking pan itself on the dining table, by setting it in that frame or holder? Most people wouldn't want to do that, but even if a company wanted to sell such a thing, the holder and the pan that fits it would most likely be sold together.

What might be more interesting to the consumer would be a rack (that sits inside the pan), or a pair of lifters, that help you flip the bird over for more even browning of the skin.

But someone who sells that specific item will sell additional items as well.

What's a lion man? The best guess I could come up with is

Representations of humans, or of flying birds, are rare and it has been suggested that the figures were produced to illustrate the ritual transformation of humans into animals. The most celebrated example is the ‘Lion Man' a lion with five toes on each paw. The imagery suggests the rock art was linked to the belief system of hunter-gatherers who dominated the area.... [unesco]

Unesco's Spanish version:

El ejemplo más célebre es el del "Hombre-León", una imagen de felino que muestra cinco dedos en cada una de sus zarpas.

But your phrase, "little lion man," doesn't seem to fit this, so I will skip that example.


I wanted to add one more thing other answers have not mentioned (or I didn't see). The noun adjoint also exists in Spanish.

It is possible to use another noun complementing the main noun. This is called "aposición". Some examples are:

Comida basura = junk food Palabras clave = keywords Vagón restaurante = dining car

Among others.

But it is true that you will rarely see more than two nouns. Chains are weird. Spanish tends to be very "organised", and set what the main word is, and what the description of that main word is.

Of course you can always replace such adjoint by adjectives: comida pobre, palabras principales, and so on.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.