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In Computer Science papers (and I'm sure that in papers in many other fields, too), we often have to describe a new tool or method that has a name.

Let's talk for instance about Eclipse, and its wide adoption among programmers. Which of these sentences is better?

  • The Eclipse development environment has been widely adopted among programmers. (name first)
  • The development environment Eclipse has been widely adopted among programmers. (name last)
  • Eclipse, the development environment, has been widely adopted among programmers. (description between commas)

Of all three, the first looks better, but why? Also, the last one is similar to this other sentence:

  • John, the new intern, was always late.

Also, when do I use each of these structures?

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I agree that the first example sounds the most natural. However, I believe that this is due to some conflation of appositive nouns and genuine adjectives.

In the first two sentences, "Eclipse" functions adjectivally as a noun (restrictively) in apposition to "The development environment". Typically, a restrictive appositive follows the noun it restricts (and so your second example is most correct, in some sense. However, the adjectival sense is so strong, and English favors adjective-before-noun word ordering to such a degree that the first example does sound better.

In the third example, "Eclipse" is the subject of the sentence with "the develop environment" functioning as a non-restrictive appositive. As such, it is truly parallel to you "John the intern" example. I'd say that it sounds less natural because it omits an actual adjective to emphasize the adjectival nature of the phrase. For instance, "Eclipse, the most popular development environment," sounds just like "John, the new intern,".

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    I agree that the third example in the question is unnatural. It sounds to me as a claim that Eclipse is the development environment, implying that you should never consider other similar things as a development environment. – Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 20 '10 at 18:50
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I would think it is a matter of the information you are intending to supply.

The first example "The Eclipse development environment has been widely adopted among programmers" would mean the Eclipse development environment, as opposed to some other development environment, has been widely adopted by programmers.

The second "The development environment Eclipse has been widely adopted among programmers" would suggest that Eclipse is a development environment, as opposed to, say, a compiler, and has been widely adopted by programmers.

The third example "Eclipse, the development environment, has been widely adopted among programmers" would give the impression that Eclipse, that you have never heard of, is a development environment and has been widely adopted by programmers.

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