Although there are plenty of grammar topics that I occasionally struggle with, there is one that causes the most trouble. Lately, I have been writing a lot of technical instructions and manuals, in which it's very common to use noun+noun structures like notification service or account management. In some cases, however, it is not clear whether a singular or plural noun should be used as a modifier. I have searched the indispensable CGEL, but it only says that nouns that are used this way are not, technically speaking, adjectives and it would be more accurate to describe them as pre-head modifiers.

This is all very well, but are there any rules or guides that define the correct use of such expressions? I remember reading in some technical guide that similar phrases should be looked up in a dictionary. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of that guide :)

Could you please elaborate on this. Thank you.

  • See "adjectival noun - singular or plural or both?" (i.e., type that in the search box). english.stackexchange.com/search?q=adjectival+noun+-+singular It will link to several questions (and some that link to others) that have some answers. For a specific phrase, though, looking it up in dictionaries is a good idea. – Xanne Nov 10 '17 at 7:09
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    This is an area where different dialects differ markedly, such that your question is almost impossible to answer unless you specify which dialect you're interested in. – ruakh Nov 10 '17 at 7:17
  • Is it specifically the number of the pre-head noun that you're asking about? – BillJ Nov 10 '17 at 7:22
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    I think there's no general rule, many of them are simply due to tradition. – Barmar Nov 10 '17 at 20:11

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