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Which one is correct?

The ^ character indicates the beginning of the string.

or

The character ^ indicates the beginning of the string.

Or both?

I ask because in my native language (Croatian) the first form is incorrect and the second form should be used. So:

  • "the console Wii" and not "the Wii console"
  • "the chocolate bar Snickers" and not "the Snickers chocolate bar"
  • "the mobile network Verizon" and not "the Verizon mobile network"
  • "the computers Apple" and not "the Apple computers"

I was wondering if there is a similar restriction in the English language...

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2  
In English, it's "the Wii console", "the Snickers chocolate bar", "the Verizon mobile network" and "the Apple computers". But I think either order is fine for "^" and "character". –  Peter Shor Sep 27 '11 at 12:58
4  
Someone is writing regex it seems ... –  RiMMER Sep 27 '11 at 13:01
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4 Answers 4

The ^ is the called the circumflex identifier. Though your 2nd sentence appears to be correct, I'd still call it by its name to be more clear.

And I believe common usage, either sentence is technically correct.

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That is what it is called. But lots of people, including computer users, probably don't know that. So I wouldn't rely on people knowing its name. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 27 '11 at 13:09
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It's actually called a caret when appearing all by itself. It's only a circumflex when it appears above a vowel in certain languages (e.g., French). –  Robusto Sep 27 '11 at 13:35
    
@Robusto strictly speaking ^ is Unicode Character 'CIRCUMFLEX ACCENT' (U+005E) The caret ‸ is Unicode Character 'CARET' (U+2038) –  nohat Sep 27 '11 at 17:56
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@nohat: Except I've never heard anyone in software dev call it a circumflex. Is this your dark, prescriptivist side showing? ^_^ –  Robusto Sep 27 '11 at 18:04
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Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash / Caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash / Bang splat equal at dollar under-score / Percent splat waka waka tilde number four / Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash / Vertical-bar curly-bracket comma comma CRASH. –  nohat Sep 27 '11 at 18:09
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For an item like a character, as in your example, either works and have the same meaning. I think that the first form is more common.

For product names you can also use both forms, but they get different meanings. The first form would be used for a well known product as the Wii console, where console is just a clarification.

For a less known product you would put the description first, like in:

The liquorice candy Salmiakki

For plural you need a from (or similar) to use the second form:

The computers from SmallComputerCompany

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In regards to this question, English is the opposite of Croatian.

In your list of examples, the second alternative is the correct one in English. We say "the Wii console", "the Snickers chocolate bar", "the Verizon mobile network", and "the Apple computers". In each case, the capitalized word is an adjective and English puts adjectives before the nouns they modify.

In your real question of whether "The ^ character" or "The character ^" is correct, I would prefer the first alternative. It would also be valid to write:

The ^ indicates the beginning of the string.

At least that seems valid to me, but I'm really a software guy and I'm accustomed to talking about single characters as parts of something bigger. In fact, I would be much more likely to write the following because of its similarity to programming languages where a single character is surrounded by single quote marks:

The '^' indicates the beginning of the string.

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2  
+1 for the reference to programming languages. I would personally do something like, "The carat symbol, '^', indicates...", using the actual name of the character in the sentence. –  tjameson Sep 27 '11 at 15:20
    
That character is in fact emphasized by having a different font face (monospace) in the original text, like so: the ^ character. That's why it isn't quoted... –  Šime Vidas Sep 27 '11 at 17:57
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In the first sentence, "character" is being used as the subject noun, and "^" is an adjective further describing which character is being referred to. In the second sentence, "^" is being used as the subject noun, and "character" is an adjective describing what domain of objects the caret comes from.

Both sentences are perfectly valid, and both essentially have the same meaning. However, you may want to choose one over the other depending on whether you want to emphasise characters or the caret specifically.

In particular, if surrounding sentences are about other characters, then it may simplify their logic for you to have made "character" the subject here. If surrounding sentences are about the caret, then the reverse may be true.

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FWIW, as a native english speaker, the first form sounds better in my mind (I read it as: :the <<blank>> character indicates..." vs: "the character <<blank>> indicates...", where <<blank>> is a mental pause, and it is less awkward in the first one.) –  Claudiu Sep 27 '11 at 23:08
    
@Claudiu - Perhaps. I'm a native speaker as well though, and frankly the first sounds a tad more natural to me, but neither is really significantly worse than the other. It could just be a matter of dialect, or even personal taste. Likely context would probably make the second better. But as I said, it depends on the context. –  T.E.D. Sep 27 '11 at 23:23
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