Birds have different migrat* strategies - some spend the winter in the breeding grounds, some migrate to the Mediterranean, some migrate to sub-Saharan Africa...

I was used to use the term "migratory strategy" here, but I was corrected to "migration strategy". When I look at the Web of Science (apps.webofknowledge.com) I found 111 articles using the query TS="migratory strategy" and 488 using the query TS="migration strategy".

  • Are both terms possible then? Or is one of them wrong or obsolete?
  • Are they equivalent, or are they slightly different?
  • Is one preferred over the other?

1 Answer 1


They are equivalent. Migratory is an adjective meaning (in this use) "relating to migration" while when used as an attributive noun the noun migration has the meaning "relating to migration".

As such either is correct. Reasons one might want to favour one over the other include:

  1. How commonly which is used. Along with your paper count, consider this:
  2. Other possible readings. Since migratory also has a meaning denoting an animal that migrates, it's possible that someone might think of it only in that sense and read it wrong. (This seems very unlikely, I'm mentioning it a a general point, rather than specific here).
  3. Subtle nuance from such things as one word being Latinate when the other is Germanic (equal here), one being shorter and punchier, etc.
  4. Style guides explicitly favouring one approach over the other.
  5. You just like one more than the other.

Point two is the only one with a clear and objective difference in this case (I can't speak for how you'd answer point 5 and don't know which if any style guides you are using). Just how important this is varies. Generally, if the rarer form is still understandable, then it's normally perfectly fine to use it. However it can be the case that a given use is so common as to almost form its own well-known compound meaning, in which case it's to be preferred when that meaning is appropriate but just as much so to be avoided if that meaning is in fact not quite what you are talking about.

  • Thanks a lot for great answer! Where did you get that plot from? And in the point 3, could you please specify which is Germanic and which Latinate?
    – Tomas
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 12:01
  • 1
    It came from books.google.com/ngrams/… change the "graph?" part to "chart?" and you get an image. In this case they are both Latinate (and forms of the same word, beside) which is why I said "equal here", but it can be a reason for choosing one word over another in other cases where we have to choose between phrases so close in meaning, so including it generalised my answer.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 12:03

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