I am often confused when it comes to a noun that is often used as an attributive adjective, yet this noun has an adjective form and this adjective form is described as "relating to (the noun)" by any dictionary. For instance: transformational and grammatical.

When I describe a section of a test that contains questions about grammar or about transforming one sentence into another, which one should I say? This is a transformational/transformation section This is a grammatical/grammar section

  • What does your research indicate? Do you prefer the "transformational section" or the "transformation section" and why?
    – rajah9
    Sep 17, 2019 at 11:52
  • @rajah9 I am still confused about which one is better in this situation, Sir. Sep 17, 2019 at 11:57

2 Answers 2


They are close, but depending on context you want to be careful to not treat attributive nouns and adjectives as the same. Compare:

  1. That is a grammar section.
  2. That is a transformation section.
  3. That is a grammatical section.
  4. That is a transformational section.

1 and 2 use attributive nouns to modify section. Attributive nouns often describe the nature of the noun phrase they modify. In the context of a test, an attributive noun would tend to describe the subject of that section, that is, what the section focuses on. So 1 tests grammar knowledge, and 2 tests knowledge about transformations.

3 and 4 use attributive adjectives to modify section. Theoretically, these words function similar to attributive nouns. However, in context, some ambiguity may exist about whether the adjective describes the subject of the test or a quality of that test:

  1. That is a grammatical section

may mean (a) that the section was written grammatically or (b) that the section focuses on grammar. Similarly,

  1. That is a transformational section

may mean (a) that the section was transformational to the speaker (that is, it (i) influenced them greatly, or that (ii) they think it will transform you) or (b) that the section focuses on transformations.

This ambiguity is not present for grammar or transformation because, as attributive nouns, they tend not to signal the range of qualities that an adjective like grammatical or transformational can.

  • 1
    Thanks, Sir. You are one genius. Sep 17, 2019 at 14:15

You could use either, and they both have the same meaning in this context. The "grammatical section" means the section pertains to proper grammar, which is right. The "grammar section" means the section is the one testing for grammar, which is also right.

An example where they could not be used interchangeably with the same meaning would be describing a teacher. The "grammatical teacher" means a teacher who uses proper grammar regardless of the subject taught, while the "grammar teacher" would mean the teacher is teaching grammar.

  • So, the same goes to "transformational/transformation section", right? Sep 17, 2019 at 12:16
  • 1
    Describing the sections, yes, as long as context describes what transformation means.
    – JRodge01
    Sep 17, 2019 at 12:20

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