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What are the differences in meaning between the followings?

  • In society terms
  • In terms of society
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  • The first is rarer and probably unacceptable. The latter is more common.
    – Kris
    Feb 15, 2014 at 6:37

3 Answers 3

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The general forms are either:

  1. In terms of [Noun]
  2. In [Adjective] terms.

So in your case, since the adjective form of society is societal, we would have:

In societal terms.

Now we can also use a noun as an adjective, as you do with "In society terms".

Other answers and comments have suggested we wouldn't do so, but haven't explained why.

The reason, is that we while we can use nouns as adjectives, we generally don't, unless it gives us a benefit in some way (in particular, it often gives us a concise form where no adjective, or no well-known adjective, exists to serve).

Someone coming to express this idea might think of the adjective societal, or they might not.

If they didn't, they'd then likely use the "of society" form.

If they did, then they might decide that it being relatively rare, they should still use the "of society form".

Otherwise they'd use societal.

Your suggested "in society terms" is valid, and means the same thing as "in terms of society", but it's just not the phrasing we would normally expect. Most native speakers would be more likely to use one of the alternatives. If they did use "in society terms" they would also be likely to rephrase to one of the alternatives on revision, or have an editor make that change if it was in something that went through one.

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  • Yes. You imply (but don't seem to say explicitly) that OP's non-standard "noun-as-adjective" example doesn't necessarily strike us as awful because we know that societal is relatively uncommon compared to society. Where the adjectival form is as common as the noun anyway, we're less tolerant. For example, most people would balk at "in politics terms", given how easily "in political terms" rolls off the tongue. Feb 15, 2014 at 13:18
  • @FumbleFingers conversely "spring break" is perfectly accepted, while "vernal break" would strike most as pedantic at best.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 15, 2014 at 13:45
  • Surely that should be correspondingly, not conversely. We're more than happy with spring break and summer holiday because even those who happen to know vernal and estival are perfectly well aware that these words are nowhere near as common as the corresponding nouns. Feb 15, 2014 at 16:21
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I have never heard the first used. The second means something along the lines "With regards to society" or "Viewing it while considering society". It's tricky to translate. Do you have the whole sentence?

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It would be unusual to use society in this way. For a specialist readership you could use societal instead, but in terms of society will do for most purposes.

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