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.


or maybe its invalid in English?

  • 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


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.


A valid geometry-pointer.

Source: Economist Style Guide - see point four.


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.


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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