Is there a name for adjectives that take the form of "noun-verbing", like "rabbit-hunting" or "self-driving"? Do this form only occurs in English?

  • 4
    In certain circles, they’re usually called verbal rektionskomposita, but I think that’s quite niche. It’s a specific subtype of synthetic compounds, but I don’t actually know of a more common name for this specific subtype. Aug 9, 2022 at 7:59
  • Pretty typical examples of incorporation aren't they?
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 9, 2022 at 8:15
  • @curiousdannii I’d say they’d be very atypical examples of incorporation, if they’re examples at all. Incorporation normally refers specifically to verbs incorporating one or more arguments while retaining its syntactic function. The examples given here may be identical to participles and thus, in theory, derivable from verbs, but they are adjectival in nature, and while their corresponding incorporating verb structures (to rabbit-hunt, to self-drive) are at least marginally possible, they are not used. Aug 9, 2022 at 22:33
  • @JanusBahsJacquet They are examples of verbs incorporating arguments, just they're verbs which have been then zero-derived into adjectives.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 9, 2022 at 22:37
  • I'd call it a verb-centred compound adjective. Other examples include "awe-inspiring, "cost-cutting" and "though-provoking". Usually (but not always), the noun corresponds to the object in a syntactic construction, For e.g. "awe inspiring" corresponds to the VP "inspire awe".
    – BillJ
    Aug 10, 2022 at 6:40

3 Answers 3


Since in your examples the 1st component determines the 2nd one (not just hunting, but specifically rabbit-hunting, not simply driving, but self-driving), such compounds are of the tatpuruṣa (aka tatpurusha) type. It is a term of the Sanskrit classical grammar, in the European tradition such compounds are called endocentric or determinative, where the compound is essentially the sum of its parts, the meaning being an extension of one of the parts. Endocentric (lit. “with center inside”) are opposed to exocentric compounds (lit. “center outside”) in which the resulting meaning lies outside the components, e.g. redhead is not a kind of head and pickpocket is not a pocket, those are kinds of people, while in the endocentric compounds rabbit-hunting is a kind of hunting and self-driving is a kind of driving.

This classification is based on the inner structure of the compounds and relationship between their components. In English, apart from difficulties in classifying ing-words into nouns, adjectives, gerunds, and participles, there is also a tradition of writing the parts of compounds as separate words without even a hyphen, so it looks like a good strategy to classify the structure of constructions rather than classifying compound adjective separately from compound nouns or verbs.

  • Pickpocket is not from pocket (cp. piker and the like + French -ette). Redheads have on average a reder head, inuding freckles, but haplology from haired will do. Exo- might as well be meta- (metaphor, metonym, inasmuch as "head" is a common metaphor and pick-a-pocket is a metonym). self-driving is certainly not just a type of driving. The autonomy implies much more than driving; it's fairly close to auto-mobile and therefore machine, psyche, logos, kinda. Rabit-hunting is either an erroded form after loss of cases or analog to a lost one.
    – vectory
    Aug 9, 2022 at 19:37
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    Note that rabbit hunter/ing is a compound of Object plus its Verb; it's not just any Noun -- it's an Object. Consider the difference between snake bite and pony ride, for instance. There's a lot going on with compounds, especially verbing ones.
    – jlawler
    Aug 9, 2022 at 20:57
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    @jlawler Also true for self-driving in a back-to front way, perhaps (the self bit incorporates the subject and object). Aug 9, 2022 at 21:21
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    @vectory I don’t understand what your point is about ‘pocket’, but pickpocket absolutely does come from it. As the answer says, it’s exocentric, meaning that a pickpocket is not a type of pocket (it’s a type of person, one who picks people’s pockets), just as a redhead isn’t a type of head (it’s a type of person who has a red head [of hair]). Self-driving is absolutely a type of driving, like fast-driving. All your stream-of-consciousness associations are completely irrelevant to whether a compound is endo- or exocentric. Aug 9, 2022 at 22:07
  • Anyway, self is predominantly not a noun and driving is not a verb. What are you even talking about. Lol?
    – vectory
    Aug 10, 2022 at 16:52

Italian has something similar, but it's not "noun-verbing" as much as it is a "verb-noun" object. The verb part is the second-person singular imperative form. Examples:

  • A towel is an asciugamani, literally a "dry-hands" or a hand dryer.
  • A handheld garlic press is a spremiaglio, literally a "squeeze-garlic" or a garlic squeezer.
  • ... or schiacciaglo, literally a "smash-garlic" or a garlic smasher.
  • A cassette tape player is a mangianastro, literally an "eat-tape" or a tape eater -- a pejorative term that I sure was well-deserved.

One to add, that I looked up to make sure I had it right:

  • A lifebuoy is a salvagente, literally a "save-people" or a people saver.

But sadly, a rabbit hunter is just a cacciatore di conigli.

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    This is the normal pattern in all Romance languages where synthetic compounds have the verb first, in an imperative or plain-stem form, followed by the object: French porte-monnaie (‘carry-money’ = purse), portefeuille (‘carry-leaf’ = portfolio); Spanish chupacabras (‘suck-goats’), cagatintas (‘shit-ink’ = pencil pusher). English has a few as well, but not many; the most well-known has given the type a commonly used English name: pickpocket compounds. This type is very different from English synthetic compounds, however, since it’s always exocentric. Aug 9, 2022 at 22:25

This type of language exists in other languages; the example I know of this occurring is in Japanese, where you can have a noun and verb follow each other in order to describe another noun; however, you need that second noun to exist (or, alternatively, the second noun can be omitted if context regarding the noun is given elsewhere in the conversation). If it's not there, you would just be describing something normally (ie. it would be turned into "I'm hunting a rabbit" instead of "rabbit-hunting XYZ").

To use your example of rabbit-hunting: うさぎを狩る人, where

  • うさぎ is rabbit
  • を is a particle (which is often ignored in daily conversation and, for these purposes, can also be ignored here)
  • 狩る is the verb for hunting
  • 人 is the noun that is being described

And when translating, is more literally read as "rabbit-hunting person".

  • 2
    That’s not really a compound word, though – it’s just how Japanese forms relative clauses: the clause modifies the noun like any other modifier would. Not every language has the ability to distinguish between compound nouns (let’s stick to nouns for simplicity) and modified nouns – even in English, it’s not clear which ‘tennis shoe’ is – but treating relative clause constructions as compounds is hardly useful in practical terms. Aug 9, 2022 at 17:52

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