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I'm writing a tech doc and this question bothers me, though i know it should be simple. I know I should say "A pair of [Key, Value]", but when I have something like "A __ of [Key, Value, Flag]", I'm just not sure if the proper word is "triple", or something else.

Is triple often used as a adj instead of a noun? Is there better word?

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'Triple' can be used as an adjective: triple crown in horse racing, triple score in a video game, a triple scoop for an ice cream cone. As a noun or adjective, triple is probably the best of all the examples (the others have more context restricted usage). –  Mitch Aug 29 '11 at 13:42
    
another one, not mentioned yet is triplet(as a noun) –  Theta30 Aug 29 '11 at 16:10
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you were not writing in a technical context, an option is the noun, trio:

  1. [countable + singular or plural verb]

a group of three people or things

A trio of English runners featured in the women's 1500 metres.

However, for technical contexts triple is perfectly fine. You can use triple as a noun, as the Merriam Webster dictionary indicates. Wiktionary indicates that one of the few uses of triple as a noun is:

(mathematics, computing) A sequence of three elements or 3-tuple.

For your case, I would recommend triple because trio sounds a bit more hoity-toity. Both would be accurate, but I think triple carries the right tone. (For example, there are Pythagorean triples but not Pythagorean trios).

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In a computing context, 3-tuple is probably more usual. Mathematicians seem to prefer triple, as in your example. –  Karl Knechtel Aug 29 '11 at 11:35
    
Good point @Karl. Is it used in tech docs? I've only ever used it to talk about a program informally –  simchona Aug 29 '11 at 11:38
    
Google NGrams doesn't seem to have heard of 3-tuples, but the use of the word 'tuple' in general has skyrocketed in the computer era (before which it was practically unheard of), so... –  Karl Knechtel Aug 29 '11 at 11:48
    
'Trio' is much more restricted in usage than triple. It is the common name for a piece of music for three instruments, but is also used for a group of three people –  Mitch Aug 29 '11 at 13:53
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Triple is also used as noun, but its meaning is different from the meaning of the adjective. Among others, the meanings of triple as noun reported by the NOAD are the following:

  • a thing that is three times as large as usual or is made up of three standard units or items
  • (triples) a sporting contest in which each side has three players
  • another term for trifecta

The OED reports also that triple as noun means "a thing consisting of three parts; a set of three items."

He pressed […] a triple of keys.—Joyce

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A couple of related words are threesome and triad, both of which mean a group of three. In general, threesome is used for people and triad, for inanimate objects.

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