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Which is more grammatically correct:

an XXX-inhibiting drug, or an XXX inhibitor drug?

It would seem to me that the use of the verbal noun ("inhibiting") as a modifier is more grammatically acceptable than the deverbal form ("inhibitor"). I say this based on the observation that verbal nouns are generally more grammatically flexible since they retain verbal characteristics. However, I most often see cases of "inhibitor drug" in the literature than instances of "inhibiting drug".

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Both the forms are used depending on the context. Where the reference is to, or the emphasis is on, the action, we would use the verbal modifier ('inhibiting drug'); where we are talking mainly about the object (drug) with its action or the nature of its action being secondary or incidental to the context, we would use the non-verbal modifier ('inhibitor drug'). –  Kris Sep 28 '12 at 15:05
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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Both are grammatically correct, though they do of course have different structures, as you note.

But they do different jobs.

  • The -ing structure is a description; it describes the salient feature of the drug: it inhibits XXX. Nothing more is said about any other effects, side-effects, or contraindications of the drug, nor indeed about what kind of drug it is or just how it inhibits XXX. All we know is that one generic fact.

  • The -or structure, on the other hand, is a name; it identifies the drug as a member of a named class of drugs, the XXX inhibitor drugs, which can be expected to have similar properties, and to act in similar biochemical ways to inhibit XXX, in varying degrees, and with varying side effects.

The choice of use depends on what is to be implied by the term.

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