Can you tell me which one is better?

  1. Simulations of protein volumes
  2. Simulations of volumes of proteins
  3. Protein-volume simulations

Each simulation can derive slightly different volume value.

I'm just afraid too many 'of' will make the sentence wrong or hard to read. Should I avoid using 'nouns of nouns of nouns' or even more 'of' in between?

I'm not sure about the plural, should all noun be plural, can I say the example 1 means testing one protein's volume many times, example 2 means test many proteins' volume many times, example 3 means emphasizing many iterations of simulations on one protein's volume.

  • Can a protein have more than one volume? If not then you shouldn't use 2). – Max Williams Sep 1 '16 at 10:39
  • Here's my take. Proteins are not rigid structures, so their "volumes", in solution, for example, fluctuate. One could study such fluctuations experimentally or by computer simulation. Given that, all three of the options presented are acceptable, with two caveats. First, you should replace #2 with "simulations of the volumes of proteins," e.g., "The diversity of simulations of the volumes of proteins has demonstrated ..." "Simulations of volumes of proteins" implies "simulations of large quantities of proteins". Second, I would consider using a hyphen in #3: "protein-volume simulations". – Richard Kayser Sep 1 '16 at 12:02
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    I do think the particular example is really the entire point. The OP is not interested in knowing if we can say "the father of a friend of a friend of my wife" or some such. They are interested in this one example and in this one example alone. Christina, presumably you work in the field and have all the context of the paper you're writing. Even so you can't tell which expression is idiomatic in your field or fit for your context. We do not work in the field and have no context whatsoever. So we can't possibly fare better than yourself. Please do provide the context. – RegDwigнt Sep 1 '16 at 15:25
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    @MaxWilliams I don't really see why you would say that? If you say 'drawings of heads of famous people' it doesn't imply that they have more than one head, even if it isn't the most elegant phrasing, it just implies that there's more than one head depicted in the drawings. In much the same way as, when you say 'raise your hands' to a group of people, you usually only expect them to raise one hand each – Au101 Sep 5 '16 at 3:47
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    @Au101 you're right, my initial comment didn't make it clear that the issue was with the potential ambiguity, thanks. – Max Williams Sep 12 '16 at 12:37

Christina, it's amazing how those guys are pussy-footing around when each and every one of your examples is grammatically correct and in ordinary English all of them have exactly the same meaning …

Simulations of protein volumes
Simulations of volumes of proteins
Protein-volume simulations

All your examples make it abundantly clear that while you might in fact mean only one, you are potentially talking about more than one simulation or more than one protein or more than one volume, any of which will necessarily force the whole sentence and anything associated with it into plural form.

Even though the result might be the same, I'm sorry to say that Au101's heads and hands might be misleading…

'Drawings of heads of famous people' doesn't imply that famous people each have more than one head, but neither does it imply that there's more than one head depicted in "the drawings".

It does imply that in each and every drawing under consideration, there is at least one head of a famous person. Is it clear that "more than one head in the drawings" is very different from "at least one head in each drawing"? That the second means exactly what it says on the back-stamp but the first could as easily describe two or three heads in 27 drawings?

In the same way, when one says 'raise your hands' to a group of people, they are expected to raise only one hand each and the plural "hands" is needed to match the plural "people".

Given that "simulations" is rather abstract, it could as easily take the singular "simulation" but that and almost anything else other than that each of your examples is just fine, is a matter of personal taste, in ordinary and in your kind of technical English.

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