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There’s an English-Japanese dictionary giving identical Japanese words for “a common sense of purpose” and “a sense of common purpose.” I’m wondering if both of the expressions are the same in meaning.

Just out of curiosity, I used google search and found “a spiritual sense of purpose” (37,000 hits) and “a sense of spiritual purpose” (15,000 hits).

I’d like to know if both kinds of expressions are the same in meaning.

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Both can mean that everyone has a shared purpose. But a sense of common purpose can also mean that one only thinks everyone has a shared purpose.

So you can build a common sense of purpose within a team. Or you can instill a sense of common purpose into a competitor.

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First, look at the nouns being modified:

sense : a meaning conveyed or intended

purpose : something set up as an object or end to be attained

Looking at the grouping:

{common sense} of purpose : {shared understanding} of the goal

sense of {common purpose} : understanding of a {shared goal}

The difference is subtle, but it's there. Same with the second set of phrases:

{spiritual sense} of purpose : {sacred intention} toward some goal

sense of {spiritual purpose} : understanding of a {sacred goal}

The distinction is perhaps less clear in this case, but spiritual is modifying a different noun in each sentence.

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