There is already a Q&A regarding experiment setup and experimental setup, where the setup, a bunch of instruments, is used to measure properties of something else and the instruments themselves are not under test. It was proposed, that there is a convention to use experimental setup while experiment setup is actually more precise.

However, my non-native speaker supervisor (who has given a lot of great advice) also insist on experimental repetitions and experimental iterations although the meaning is repetitions/iterations of an experiment. I prefer experiment repetitions/iterations. Which is correct and why?

  • "Experiment setup" would be appropriate when describing the "setup" (preparation) for a specific experiment or group of similar experiments. "Experimental setup" is more appropriate when describing the more general overall setup of the experiments, vs some specific experiment or a small group. It's a hair fuzzy. – Hot Licks Mar 31 '19 at 20:29

This reminds me of the argument I sometimes have over whether it's better to say 'resonance frequency' or 'resonant frequency'. I go for 'resonance frequency' because it's not the frequency that is resonant but some oscillatory system. Likewise, I prefer 'experiment set-up in the cases you cite, and for rather similar reasons. In both cases, though, I think that the adjective ('resonant', 'experimental') is acceptable instead of the noun.


Saying "experiment setup" refers to the setup of an experiment, like setting up the beakers, thermometers, and whatnot so that everything is ready for conducting the experiment. The setup itself isn't experimental but is merely a task you perform in preparation for conducting an experiment in which you will use what you've setup.

Saying "experimental setup" refers to a setup procedure itself being experimental, like if you try setting things up a new way to see if it's more effective or efficient, you're experimenting with a new setup. That's what an "experimental setup" is, a new setup that you're trying out.

With these two definitions in mind, you could even have an experimental experiment setup. That would be when you experiment with a new setup for conducting an experiment or experiments.

  • As I said I also would prefer "experiment setup", but it really seems that "experimental setup" is used more often even in the context where "experiment setup" seems more appropriate the "experiment setup" is used. – Johu Apr 1 '19 at 18:14
  • However, this question was about the related terminology and the "setup" question is discussed in another Q&A I linked. – Johu Apr 1 '19 at 18:15
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    Regarding your first comment: I read your Ngram links. I went through the first two pages, 20 instances. Every single one referred to the setup itself being what was new and experimental and not the setting up of an experiment. I'm wondering if you're not understanding that because English isn't your first language. I mean, the writing in each of those 20 instances was extremely technical and would challenge even college-educated, native English speakers' ability to fully comprehend. – Benjamin Harman Apr 1 '19 at 19:21
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    Regarding your second comment: Whether the noun being modified is "setup," "iterations," or "repetitions," when and how you would use "experiment" or "experimental" remains unchanged. When "experiment" is used, it is being used as a noun adjunct to indicate that the noun being modified relates to an experiment, not that the noun is "experimental." When "experimental" is used, it is an adjective indicating the noun being modified is what's new and being tested (i.e., "experimental). The meanings of "experiment" and "experimental" aren't changed by what they modify but vice versa. – Benjamin Harman Apr 1 '19 at 19:30
  • Alright, I agree. I am able to understand the text in the examples, but I think by taking it out of the context it is possible to interpret in both ways. Before I did not try too hard to see it the other way around. Please incorporate your useful comments to the answer and I will accept it. Thanks! – Johu Apr 1 '19 at 20:20

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