Everybody knows the term "science fiction" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_fiction

But I am wondering why "science fiction" and not grammatically more correct form "scientific fiction"?

Consider similar case:

"nucleus reaction" vs "nuclear reaction"

I am sure that "nuclear reaction" is the correct one.

So, why "science fiction" is more used than "scientific fiction" if "scientific fiction" is the more correct form when considering grammar?

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    Because it is not fiction constructed according to scientific principles but fiction about plausible extensions of modern science. Jun 24, 2013 at 19:17
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    Why is it "mystery novels" and not "mysterious novels"? Why is it "science reporting", "sports reporting" and "business reporting", and not "scientific reporting", "sportive reporting", and "commercial reporting"? Jun 24, 2013 at 19:22
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    In Portuguese we also use the correspondent to 'scientific fiction', and lots of students will try to translate it literally. I tell them that it is science fiction because it is a type of fiction, mush like birthday party and wedding party are types of parties, and therefore it doesn't really have to be an adjective. I'm not exactly sure if my explanation is grammatically sound, but I do try to limit technical grammar to the minimum so as not to create resistance from students who are 'allergic' to grammar. Jun 24, 2013 at 20:00
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    Why must you always compare English to Czech, as if one language is more logical than the other? They are two separate languages which have evolved independently from each other. I could easily ask why are detective books not called "Yellow"? Seems absurd? Outlandish? Yet in Italian that is exactly how they're called. Why not fantasy science instead of science fiction? The stories are not necessarily based on real science, they are created by the fantasy of the author. Hence in Italian they are called fantascienza.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 24, 2013 at 20:05
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    I'm surprised no one has suggested a comparison with "historical fiction". If it's "science fiction", why not "history fiction"? If it's "historical fiction", why not "scientific fiction"? Jun 25, 2013 at 3:58

4 Answers 4


One early candidate for what we now call SF was "scientifiction," a term coined by Hugo Gernsback, an early SF editor and publisher for whom the Hugo Awards are now named. This term neatly overlaps the final syllable of "scientific" and the first of "fiction." However, although he preferred "scientifiction," Gernsback also coined the term "science fiction." The latter is what caught on with the public and was later shortened to "sci-fi."

You'd have to ask him why "science fiction" and not "scientific fiction." Unfortunately, he died in 1967. I assume it was because the doubled "fic" syllable was awkward to pronounce and made the speaker sound like he had a stutter. "Scientifiction" might have been an attempt to ameliorate that issue but it, too, is awkward, in my opinion. "Science fiction" does slide more easily off the tongue.


"Science fiction" is not ungrammatical. The earliest example of its use dates back to 1851, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Google Ngram Viewer agrees with the OED, showing that "science fiction" is far more popular than "scientific fiction."

Also consider terms like "science book," "science fair," "science experiment"[1], "science teacher," and "Science Guy." These all objects, events, or positions relating to science but not (necessarily) applying scientific principles or methods.

Finally, as Peter Shor pointed out, many other genre names follow the same convention because the word before "fiction" often describes the content, not the style.

[1]: Of course, "scientific experiment" is also common.

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    @Kris: It is not ungrammatical, as nouns can be used as adjectives, and that is exactly what is happening here.
    – Stephan B
    Jun 25, 2013 at 7:00
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    Which I see is the soul of the answer and should have been there, rather in an obscure comment, right? :)
    – Kris
    Jun 25, 2013 at 7:02
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    The difference between physics education and physical education is rather dramatic. Jun 25, 2013 at 8:17
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    I would say nouns can be used attributively, rather than nouns can be used as adjectives. Compare "This apple is very red" to *"This fiction is very science".
    – user28567
    Jun 25, 2013 at 20:14
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    @snailboat: Close, but no cigar. Compare "The explosion was very nuclear." The 'very' test cannot be used to unequivocally distinguish between nouns and adjectives. Grammarians are still divided on whether the common usage involved is 'noun behaving as if it were an adjective' or 'word usually a noun becoming an adjective in this usage'. Jun 25, 2013 at 22:44

At http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/adjectives/noun-modifiers is an article showing the common and grammatical use of noun modifiers (aka adjunct nouns); whether or not they remain nouns in this usage is moot.

I'll just quote (with some tidying):

We often put two nouns together and readers/listeners have to know or work out what they mean. So:

an ice bucket = a bucket to keep ice in

an ice cube = a cube made of ice

an ice breaker = a ship which breaks ice

the Ice Age = the time when much of the Earth was covered in ice.

Not an icy bucket / an icy cube / an icy breaker / the Icy Age!

Words readily undergo semantic conversion (becoming another part of speech as well as the original one - or at least being used as if they did) in English. Perhaps the OP would be disturbed to know that nuclear is used as a noun:

'...fossil fuels are a clear and present threat to the American way of life, and that renewables won't fix it, and that nuclear is the only solution.'



Science is a much more general word than scientific. Scientific suggests something more factual and therefore fiction is not used in conjuction with the word scientific.

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