Consider the following:

The financial industry got its (22) ________ (office) start on Wall Street on May 17, 1792. On that day, New York's first stock exchange was established by the (23) ________ (sign) of the Buttonwood Agreement.'
www.livescience.com (Link)

(from the Hungarian School Leaving Exam (MATURA), May 2017)

The task was to write the correct word formed from the word in the parentheses. The instructions were as follows

You are going to read an article about the origins of the name of Wall Street. Some words are missing from the text.

  • Use the words in brackets to form the words that fit in the gaps (18-25).
  • Then write the appropriate form of these words on the dotted lines after the text.
  • There might be cases when you do not have to change the word in brackets.
  • Use only one word for each gap.

Naturally, we have two options for (23). Either it's signature or it's signing.

Which one is correct? Are both correct?

According to the online Oxford Dictionary, signature can be used as a mass noun, with the meaning of 'the action of signing a document.'

  • 1
    choose an answer I considered unfamiliar over one I knew to be totally acceptable. However, in your case, one needs to know how the examiners rate 'idiomaticity' (how commonly a usage is used by proficient users) as opposed to 'has any dictionary found evidence of this usage?' And only they can answer that. Quirk and Svartvik proposed the existence of a gradience of acceptability for grammatical constructions (rather than a right / wrong dichotomy), and the same complications are apparent when it comes to judging what is le mot juste. May 12, 2017 at 13:49
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    @EdwinAshworth I see, that's all right. What is considered enough research? I checked in dictionaries, which listed signature as the act of signing. I could not find, however, examples of using the word in this way. I thought that it was fine to ask the question, as native speakers can obviously bring up examples, since they are familiar with much more sources and texts. Perhaps that idea was wrong, excuse me. Nonetheless, thank you for your help.
    – bp99
    May 13, 2017 at 15:49
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    "According to the online Oxford Dictionary, signature can be used as a mass noun, with the meaning of 'the action of signing a document.' " is sufficient. You can show this as evidence to authorities. But they remain authorities; they have the final say in matters like this. As I said, I'd have played safe with 'signing'. Using 'signature' here might not be ungrammatical, but it certainly sounds odd to my ears. And that hints quite strongly at it being an unidiomatic usage. And unidiomaticity can be as unacceptable as ungrammaticality. May 13, 2017 at 16:11
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    I think a difficultly with signature is that it does not come from the verb sign. So perhaps the testmakers were simply testing your ability to form a ing form.... Jun 11, 2017 at 23:02
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    The most common meaning (though not the only meaning) of "signature" is a person's name, written by that person, to indicate agreement with some document. The most common meaning of "signing" is the action of writing such a signature. The latter is what is relevant in the example sentence, so I'd prefer "signing". Nov 9, 2017 at 4:33

3 Answers 3


Either word is correct here, but 'signing' would be the more commonly used word.

Signature is more commonly used to refer to the product of signing one's name than the act of signing itself. It is defined by Wiktionary as

  1. A person's name, written by that person, used as identification or to signify approval of accompanying material, such as a legal contract.
  2. An act of signing one's name; an act of producing a signature.

The Cambridge Dictionary definition for Signature meaning the

the act of signing something

notes it as formal. It would still be correct to use it in this instance, but it is a less common usage.

To provide some evidence of this usage of signature being less common than signing, I did some Google searches.

A Google search for "signature of the Magna Carta" provides about 15,500 results while "signing of the Magna Carta" provides about 99,200. Below is a table with results for the same Google searches with some other historical documents.

Document that was signed        Signature    Signing
Magna Carta                     15,500       99,200
Declaration of Independence     186,000      713,000
Treaty of Paris                 81,000       236,000
Treaty of Versailles            41,600       168,000
Buttonwood Agreement            4            1,850

As you can see, signing is much more common than signature in this usage.


I can somewhat understand either. But I lean more toward "signing of" because if you read the latter part of the sentence the insertion if "signature" seems awkward.

'the signature of the Buttonwood Agreement.'


"Signing of" will be perfect in your sentence. Its an agreement which would be signed by many. 'On that day, New York's first stock exchange was established by the signing of the Buttonwood Agreement'

Whereas use "Signature" would mean that unless someone actually signed in, the stock exchange would not have started.

'On that day, New York's first stock exchange was established by the signature of Mr. Someone.'

  • 1
    Your answer may well be correct, but how is anyone to tell? At SE EL&U we're looking for answers that provide some explanation and context. Please explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – David
    Aug 10, 2017 at 22:03

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