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Lets say I have a phrase a valid geometry pointer (which might be a little technical but the focus is on adjectives and nouns).

How does the word valid bind to geometry pointer? Does it mean a (valid geometry) pointer or a a valid (geometry pointer)?

Could you also point to a reputable resource that could confirm this? Thank you.

Edit

or maybe its invalid in English?

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  • It is too technical for me. You see, we need a context to deal with the ambiguity and I don't understand the context. Is there such a thing as a "geometry pointer"? In which case, I'd put those two together first. Or is there such a thing as "valid geometry", to which you have a pointer? We use context usually to sort this out.
    – Margana
    Jul 3, 2015 at 15:57
  • @Margana both pointer, geometry and geometry pointer are valid entities
    – iggy
    Jul 3, 2015 at 16:12

3 Answers 3

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Hyphenation can be used to avoid ambiguity in situations like this. Though this is more a matter of style rather than a solid, grammatical point.

For example, you can use a hyphen to place the emphasis as follows:

A valid-geometry pointer.

or

A valid geometry-pointer.

Source: Economist Style Guide - see point four.

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It means

valid (geometry pointer)

The general rule is that you work backwards from the final noun. However this can be overruled depending on context, e.g.

a valid Euclidean Geometry pointer ---> a valid ((Euclidean Geometry) pointer)

Maybe you could come up with better examples. Mine was made up.

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Either grouping of the two you gave is possible, but that might not be so if we were actually dealing with two adjectives. "Geometry" is a noun, not an adjective. "Geometry pointer" is not an adjectival construction, but is rather a compound noun -- that is, a noun made from the two nouns "geometry" and "pointer".

"Valid" is an adjective, which you would expect to modify a following noun. In your example, there are two different following nouns it could modify. One is "geometry" and the other is the compound noun "geometry pointer".

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