I would like to know whether there is a grammatical or semantical difference between "notion of " and "-notion". I do not know what to search for to answer this question so maybe someone can help me here :-)

For instance "development of a notion of IT-Infrastructure" vs. "development of an IT-Infrastructure-notion". The first one is very long and doggerel, but the second one is maybe wrong/not good style.

In other words: I need a section title where I develop (extract literature, derive facts, ...) a notion or understanding of the term IT Infrastructure. What would be a correct one?

  • 3
    I think you should be more specific, providing a few specific examples to help everyone understand what confuses you. In some cases, there may be no difference except stylistic preference, and in other instances, there might be some compelling reason to use one or the other. But your question is rather vague as is. (By the way, it would be better to do this by editing your question, rather than by responding to me in a comment.) – J.R. Feb 2 '13 at 10:44
  • @J.R. thank you for your comment, I have edited my question – strauberry Feb 2 '13 at 10:49
  • Now that we have more information, I'll mention that I don't see why you need hyphens in either of those examples. Maybe the root of your problem is hyphen overuse, rather than knowing where to put the word notion. – J.R. Feb 2 '13 at 10:53
  • I use hyphens to show togetherness of words... but maybe it is just an influence of my German mother tongue. – strauberry Feb 2 '13 at 10:55
  • :^) Ah! I understand much better now. Yes, as you write in English, you're probably better off forgoing a majority of those hyphens – although I can see why you'd be tempted to put them in. – J.R. Feb 2 '13 at 10:58

As an aside on meanings, I'd avoid notion here, because it means a vague sense, or an awareness of something exists or is a possibility, without a deep understanding of it. To have a notion of IT infrastructure, would mean that you have some vague idea that IT systems sometimes need some sort of infrastructure, but no more than that. Maybe that's exactly what you want, or maybe notion is favoured in your field for some other reason, but generally I'd go for the stronger understanding.

To the question of grammar, while the two work slightly different, they end up meaning the same thing. Using understanding as a suggestion instead of notion, then:

understanding of IT infrastructure


IT infrastructure understanding


IT-infrastructure understanding

Are all acceptable. While one uses a preposition and the other turns "IT infrastructure" to an adjectival use, both are clear in meaning the same thing.

The only difference in the last two is of course the hyphen. This is allowed, but not required. I'd choose on them by trying to judge how likely someone whose eye was caught by "infrastructure understanding" to not realise that the earlier "IT" belonged with the phrase, and hyphenate if I thought it likely. Here, I would judge it unlikely and not hyphenate, but there's no strict rule on this decision (there is in some style guides).

Having decided the non-hyphenated form is the better of the last two (or perhaps disagreeing with me, and favouring the hyphenated), in deciding between that and the form using of, I personally would consider the of form slightly clearer and stronger, and hence use it if the phrase came up once or twice in a piece. On the other hand, the slightly greater concision cohesion as a unit means I would favour it if I was going to end up using it a great many times.

I'd also decide based on things like avoiding repetition of of close together, though I'd probably avoid it here by opting for "Developing an understanding of IT infrastructure" which loses the first of instead. (Not that repeated of must be avoided, it can just scan better if you can do so without twisting into something barbarous).

In all though, while there is strictly a grammatical difference between the two, that difference is in the means, not in the end. They're both acceptable, and both convey the same meaning.

  • 'avoid notion' is not an option. See also, my comment at OP. – Kris Feb 2 '13 at 12:57
  • @Kris, why is it not an option? It seems a strange choice indeed to me, for the reason given, but if there's a use that would have it as the only reasonable choice then I'd like to amend accordingly. – Jon Hanna Feb 2 '13 at 13:57
  • Perhaps "notion" should be avoided – unless, of course, the O.P. is in fact developing a notional architecture or infrastructure. – J.R. Feb 2 '13 at 16:25
  • Also @J.R. The question does not ask whether notion is correct or whether it needs to be replaced with a better alternative. Digressing from the essence of the question is not an option. – Kris Feb 3 '13 at 10:17
  • @Kris: My comment is a reply to this answer (to the opening paragraph in particular): "it [notion] means a vague sense, without a deep understanding of it .. that you have some vague idea that IT systems sometimes need some sort of infrastructure, but no more. Maybe that's exactly what you want, or maybe notion is favoured in your field..." Indeed, notion IS an oft-used term in the early stages of top-down design (or at least notional is). It seems like that could be a helpful or pertinent tidbit for both Jon and the OP; I don't see how it digresses from the "essence of the question." – J.R. Feb 3 '13 at 12:53

For the title of a section where you "develop (extract literature, derive facts, ...) a notion or understanding of the term IT Infrastructure," something pithy like

A notion of infrastructure

would probably suffice. Put notion first, because that is what you are developing. You could have

Understanding IT infrastructure

which again has the most important word first.

In general, English doesn't need hyphens to link attributive nouns to the object they describe, although it can be done [e.g., cheque-book, which is more usually one word nowadays] and used to be common practice [e.g. consulting-room, which is more usually two separate words].

  • I really like your first suggestion; there's probably no need to include the word development or developing in the section header. – J.R. Feb 2 '13 at 11:10

One way to make this less "doggerel" is to change the opening word to a verb, which eliminates the need for the first preposition:

Developing an IT Infrastructure Notion

You can also convert notion to an adjective:

Developing a Notional IT Infrastructure

For a section header, I'd probably be inclined to go with one of those.1

1 (Edit) Or, as Andrew pointed out, you can make the header even more succinct by leaving out the word developing.

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