I know that there are a few cases where we can use the adjective after the noun, which is called postpositive. Here are some examples:

Attorney General / Secretary General / court martial

But I have noticed that some people generalize such a use outside its original idiomatic use. For example:

The Directorate General of Democracy offers help to most European societies.

I am wondering why they didn't use General Directorate.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jason Bassford, JJJ, Neeku, TrevorD, TaliesinMerlin Apr 11 at 18:46

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Maybe because it's a European and not a British title? In French, it's "la direction générale de la démocratie." – Peter Shor Apr 10 at 11:38
  • @Peter Shore: You're right, but for a British or an American native, which is more common: The Directorate General...or The General Directorate...? – Mido Mido Apr 10 at 14:13
  • Looking at Wikipedia, it seems like it probably should be General Directorate in the U.S., which has General Directors and Directorate General in Australia, Canada, and the U.K., which all have (or had) Directors General. – Peter Shor Apr 10 at 14:20

A relict of the 18th c. position of France as a world power and French as the lingua franca of European royalty and diplomats, many French words dealing with government and diplomacy were either taken over directly into English:

attaché, chargé d’affaire, communiqué, détente, rapprochement

or adapted, preserving postpositive adjective word order:

secretary general, ambassador extraordinary, ambassador plenipotentiary

USAmerican passports still contain French translations of some text, with Spanish appearing during the second Clinton administration as a nod to Puerto Rico, whose residents are American citizens but without the right to vote on the island, though they may do so if they become permanent residents of one of the 50 states.

The Directorates-General of the European Union, headed by directors-general — both with hyphen — follow this naming convention.

  • l totally agree with your clear historical explanation, but l want to know what the Americans and the British usually use, the Directorate General or the General Directorate. – Mido Mido Apr 10 at 15:19
  • Directorate-General/Director-General are official EU titles. My historical sketch was to show you how such usage in English is unremarkable. If you're talking, say, of a business firm and not the EU, then it's a general director. – KarlG Apr 10 at 15:58

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.