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Is there any rule for when it is better to use genitive case or noun as adjective? I'm not sure if there is any difference in meaning in this example:

The department of accounting

The accounting department

Can I also use both forms in situations like:

The restaurants of Paris / The Paris restaurants

The room window / The window of the room

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3 Answers 3

It is generally better and clearer to use the genitive, although in some cases the meaning doesn't change. In the examples you give, as Hackworth above states, the meaning of the accounting department isn't clear.

In the restaurants of Paris vs Paris restaurants (the isn't correct before the word Paris) the meaning stays the same, so they can be used interchangeably. But the room window implies there is a window somewhere else (e.g. a car) that needs to be distinguished from the one of the room. In the window of the room there is no allusion to another place that contains a window.

The differences in meaning are quite subtle, but they are still there. The safest choice is the use of the genitive.

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1  
Shouldn't it be 'Parisian restaurants'? Just 'Paris restaurants' sounds like newspaper-headline-ese. –  Mitch Nov 14 '11 at 14:48
    
As I have suggested in my answer. –  Barrie England Nov 14 '11 at 15:00

You can say all of them except The room window. That would have to be the room’s window.

The choice between the constructions depends on context. It would be more usual to see accounting department than department of accounting. That is just as grammatical, but would be found only in special circumstances. The restaurants of Paris would be the normal form. The Paris restaurants would be unlikely: Parisian restaurants would be the more usual term. The room’s window and The window of the room might be found with more or less equal frequency, depending on the linguistic environment.

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The department of accounting

The accounting department

In this case, it would be better to use the former, because the latter is ambiguous.

The accounting department:

  • the department that is presently in the act of accounting

vs

  • the department that is responsible for accounting
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-1: There's no real scope for ambiguity, and people simply don't normally write "department of accounting". –  FumbleFingers Nov 14 '11 at 14:37
    
@FumbleFingers: the evidence is overwhelmingly against people actually using 'department of accounting', but it sounds perfectly natural, and for the general case of 'the X of Y' vs 'the Y X', I don't think there is a general rule of preference. –  Mitch Nov 14 '11 at 14:52
    
@Mitch: It may sound "natural" to you, but to me it sounds decidedly stilted / archaic / overblown / pompous. Perhaps it depends on whether you've needed to refer to such a department very often in the course of a working life. I feel much the same about Director of Finance, for example, because I've needed to refer to such people very often. But Department of Justice sounds fine to me - firstly because that's probably the first time I've ever written it, and secondly because said department is supposed to sound somewhat "lofty". –  FumbleFingers Nov 14 '11 at 15:04

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