I've been reading "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen R. Covey and I feel like he's misusing the word gravity in a couple of sentences.

"Habits too, have tremendous gravity pull..."

And again...

"But to get there, those astronauts literally had to break out of the tremendous gravity pull of the earth."

I have tremendous respect for Stephen Covey, but shouldn't he have used the adjective version of gravity, gravitational? Is he right in using the phrase "gravity pull"? He uses it repeatedly so it doesn't seem like a typo.


4 Answers 4


I agree with your feeling, although the meaning of the phrase is clear. I don't like the phrase because Covey is using a noun as an adjective and I don't see that there is any stylistic need to do so. Does he dislike "gravitational" or does he not know it? In the first case he fails to communicate any sense of why he dislikes it. In the second he just appears ignorant.

  • I agree with this sentiment. I'm waiting for an even clearer answer, if possible, but this seems as dead on as it can get. Jul 25, 2015 at 16:33

The trusty Ngram viewer does find a few uses of "gravity pull," particularly in older books and particularly with regard to coal mining, but also including this 1923 mechanics textbook:

The gravity pull of the earth on a 1-pound body ... is extensively used as a unit of force and it is called a "pound."

More recent matches are mainly false drops or have the possessive.

  • The author read plenty of older books, so maybe the older form of its usage influenced his? 1923 is a pretty distant past though; the book was written in 1989. Would this qualify it as an accurate usage then? Jul 25, 2015 at 6:14
  • My impression from having taken the 7-habits training from the Covey "Institute" is that the author quote-minded plenty of older books, but I can't know what influenced him. It's "accurate" in that native speakers would know he meant.
    – deadrat
    Jul 25, 2015 at 6:19

I believe that using gravity to modify pull works as a noun adjunct.

  • 1
    Since the noun "pull" has other meanings, I don't find it works all that well in noun-noun combination, but it's not like it's ambiguous.
    – deadrat
    Jul 25, 2015 at 6:22
  • @deadrat I agree, but I sure don't know what the author is thinking. Jul 25, 2015 at 6:25
  • I checked the passage. He means that habits exert a force that keeps us bound to harmful patterns of behavior and that requires us to expend energy to escape its influence and free ourselves to live better lives. Much like the earth's gravity is a force that keeps us on the planet, requiring a rocket's worth of energy to escape its bonds.
    – deadrat
    Jul 25, 2015 at 6:33
  • 2
    "gravity pull" is not something that anyone who cared about English or phyiscs would say. "the pull of gravity" -- OK. "Gravitational pull" -- OK.
    – ab2
    Jul 25, 2015 at 13:44

In physics and astronomy, people would probably say gravity's pull, or as you suggested, gravitational pull, not gravity pull. However, it looks from your quote as thought this author is not talking about gravity in the physical sense, but is trying to borrow a concept from one field and used it in another field -- to sound sophisticated, perhaps? To lend more weight to his statements?

  • Hard to say, but "the gravitational pull of habits" seems to be an excellent figurative use, giving habits the attribute of mass -- the larger and closer they are to you, the more influence they have. But maybe it's just me.
    – deadrat
    Jul 25, 2015 at 6:21
  • @deadrat I completely agree Jul 25, 2015 at 15:49

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