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I frequently encounter this in technical documents and I am wondering which one is correct.

In the figure below

or

In the below figure

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The first example is correct, not the second.

Below is generally used as an adverb or preposition, not as an adjective. See, e.g., Cambridge.

As such, it does not modify figure.

In the first example, it could be construed as either, based on what is implied.

As a preposition

In the figure below [this spot] . . .

Or as an adverb

In the figure [shown] below . . .

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Thanks for answering, now I can prove to them they're wrong. –  dimas Jan 21 '13 at 1:14
    
Or on the other hand, see Merriam-Webster, avoid it because the usage is rare and not without it's detractors, but don't tell someone they're wrong for doing what's attested for a century. –  Jon Hanna Jan 21 '13 at 1:22
    
@JonHanna - I understand that the construction is possible, if rare and historic (as is prithee). But the currently accepted usage does not support use as an adjective (and it sounds off to me). But I agree that wrong is a value judgment that is always subject to disagreement. I'm a lawyer. I can defend and justify almost anything. Is that so wrong? –  bib Jan 21 '13 at 1:33
2  
It's not historic, it's late 19th Century to the current day, and growing in popularity. I don't think it's a good idea to use it, but I don't think it's a good idea to tell someone they're wrong if they do either, unless you're in a position to determine style-guides. –  Jon Hanna Jan 21 '13 at 1:47
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They're both correct, and amount to the same thing, but the second use of below as an adjective is less common.

So uncommon in fact, that you can find native speakers complaining to lexicographers about it. That in itself may be a reason to avoid it, though it has nearly a century of attested use.

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Thanks for answering, I've always known something is wrong with the second example I just don't have enough proof. :) –  dimas Jan 21 '13 at 1:13
    
Hmm. Just found a use from 1889, earlier than M-W give as their first found. –  Jon Hanna Jan 21 '13 at 1:24
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Not so much wrong, as just not very usual. This sort of thing is best treated with the principle, "Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send", which is a saying from software engineering, but applies to other things too. In this case, don't use it yourself (so as not to upset those who hate it or think it wrong), but don't complain when others do use it. –  Jon Hanna Jan 21 '13 at 1:27
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