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I'm curious about the correct way of using the XXX something XXX construction.

I used to have the 80 port, the 'English Language & Usage' forum in my writing. But at the same time I see that many people use a different word order: the port 80, the book 'How to write correctly'.

Is there any significant difference between these two approaches or I'm too geeky?


Update: Sorry for confusing — I'll try to elaborate this a little.

So, let's say that we have a class of items: book, port, thread, person, etc.

And we have a name of the class item: 80 (port), "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" (book), BODY (html tag), etc.

So I usually use it as "the [item] [class]", for example:

  • the 80 port
  • the "Harry Potter" book
  • the BODY tag

But I frequently see that people use another order of words (the [class] [item]) like:

  • the port 80
  • the character "a"
  • the book "Les Miserables"

So which is better and why? Or there is no difference?

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What exactly are you asking? Whether it's an 80 port or a port 80? Whether it's the port 80? Whether 'port 80' should be in quotes? –  FumbleFingers Jul 12 '13 at 2:56
    
Your formula the ... something ... is very confusing. Presumably you mean the, the actual word, but you don't mean something, the actual word; rather, you mean it as a variable. But then what are the ...'s? To be announced later? Any other word at all? Give some examples, please, of full sentences using the "construction" you're referring to with your ad hoc terminology. –  John Lawler Jul 12 '13 at 3:01
    
Could you please check update to the post? Thanks. –  AlexAtNet Jul 12 '13 at 3:26
    
All three versions of a pair of nouns with one describing the other are grammatically correct and have their uses. "the 80 port", "port 80" & "80 the port" refer to the same entity-descriptor pair. As you guessed, the two variants appear to mean the same but have a subtle difference in implication and context of use. Essentially the shift is in the focus of argument. –  Kris Jul 15 '13 at 11:05
    
A good question, perhaps needed some editing early on. (I happened to see it just now.) –  Kris Jul 15 '13 at 11:06

1 Answer 1

up vote 0 down vote accepted

Your updated question seems to show a confusion between name and description. There are seven 'Harry Potter' books, but only one book 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'. So "The 'Harry Potter' books" could refer to the series of seven, or to a pile of books on the table, but "The 'Harry Potter' book" could only refer to a single copy (unless there is other context), since there is no book called 'Harry Potter'. (That last phrase could equally have been there is no book 'Harry Potter', a better illustration but a more confusing explanation.)

If you are using a term as a name, you put the name last, just as you would normally refer to the user AlexAtNet rather than ?the AlexAtNet user. That explains the book 'Les Miserables', and it can make a real difference; "The '"Quasimodo" book' is actually the book 'Notre Dame de Paris'."

Your other examples are less clear, but I think the same logic applies. A character has only one existence (though billions of instantiations) and so a name, whereas every keyboard has one of each key, so they are given descriptions. Consider "To obtain the character 'a' you will have to press the B key".

And in some cases name or description depends only on whether you use inverted commas (or, as often on this site, italics). 'The 80 port' is normal and 'the port 80' confusing if not wrong, but To reduce confusion I have named the ports on that side; port '1' is on top, and port '80' (the I/O port) beneath.

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So when there is a name, it is better to use the book [name] and when it is a description, it should go first: the [description] book. The name is exact and uniquely identifies the subject, the description is more vague and may refer to the class of items, like the administrator user (user with administrative privileges) vs the user 'admin' (there is exactly one user with name 'admin'). If it is correct I probably need to revise some of my text :) Thank you for help. –  AlexAtNet Jul 12 '13 at 12:36

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