When to use "of"? "noun1 noun2" vs. "noun2 of the noun1"



When I want to compound two nouns, I often don't know whether I should simply concatenate the nouns, or use of. For example:

  • measurement location vs. location of the measurement
  • figure source vs. source of the figure

Is there any rule to decide which option is correct? When both options are correct, how to decide which option is the best choice?

Franck Dernoncourt

Posted 2014-08-15T22:55:01.270

Reputation: 3 843

I'll be very interested to know this. I know something about whether to use apostrophe or of but this is noun noun or of +1 :-) – Maulik V – 2014-08-16T06:31:32.730



The preposition of can signify a relationship between two nouns, but it's not always a spatio-temporal relationship - more commonly, it indicates some kind of ownership.

Semantically, there is no difference between the noun phrases measurement location and location of the measurement.

However, figure source is an odd turn of phrase, and I would expect source of the figure to be transformed into the figure's source instead.

You could, equally, for the first phrase, say the measurement's location, but there's something about figure source that seems infelicitous - perhaps someone else can expound on this further.

However, in answer to your question, I would decide whether it is the location, or the measurement that is the new information in my text. For example:

The measurement occurred at 11.59pm, and provided no additional information. While a number of other factors may have altered its outcome, the location of the measurement was not relevant.

This is more a stylistic choice, but is related to the idea of Given vs New information in a text, where typically we place the Given information toward the beginning of a clause, except where New information is being highlighted. It's a tricky subject - SIL has a brief description of it - but essentially it's a choice that affects the information flow in a discourse.

Incidentally, I'd only use the measurement's location, and not measurement location in the text above, since we're referring to a specific instance. If it were speaking about general cases, measurement location might be apt, for instance:

  1. Ensure that the temperature probe is fully submerged at an appropriate location. The measurement location should be no less than 2cm away from the edge of the body.

Other factors to consider might be which noun the emphasis is on - in the above examples, whether it's the location or the measurement. This is a side-effect of, and secondary to, Given-New decisions.


Posted 2014-08-15T22:55:01.270

Reputation: 4 208