There has been a huge increase in the number of look-ups of the compound noun change machine over the last few weeks. Actually, there isn’t an entry in the Macmillan Dictionary, but maybe there should be.
It’s a machine that gives change (you put in a note, say a dollar bill, and it returns the equivalent amount of money in coins). In the same way that a cash machine gives you cash, or a coffee machine delivers a cup of coffee.
So you might be tempted to think that it’s pretty straightforward. Where X is a commodity of sorts, an X machine is a machine that delivers or provides X. But this is English, so of course there are lots of exceptions: a fruit machine doesn’t provide fruit, and a drum machine doesn’t deliver an actual drum, rather it makes the sound of drums.
When the modifying word is not a commodity, as in slot machine, then we’re talking about the way it operates – in this case you have to put something (usually a coin) into the machine in order to make it work. Or if the modifier is a gerund, like washing or sewing, then it tells you what the machine does.
The relationship between a noun modifier and the noun that follows is not always clear. If English is your first language, then you grow up knowing what these combinations mean. But if English is a second (or third, or fourth…) language, then it can sometimes be tricky analysing these compounds. We’ll do a fuller post on this in a week or two.Email this Post