I often see "functional" used as an adjective in situations where I think that "function" would actually be the better choice. Specifically, I am referring to translations of German compound nouns.

Here is an example: Funktionsarchitektur. This is the architecture of the function/functions. To be specific, we are talking about a technical function in a machine or vehicle. This is the architecture of the devices, control units, etc. which perform the specific function. ABS would be one example.

In this case I would use "function architecture", translating it as a compound noun in English as well. For me, "functional architecture" is an architecture which functions and not an architecture of/for functions.

I see a lot of cases in which the adjective "functional" is used instead of expanding the compound noun.

Any thoughts on this?

  • architecture of the function? Surely, the correct translation is: functional architecture as opposed to whimsical architecture, decorative architecture, etc. "the architecture of a function" means you are showing the structure of the function, which would be quite unusual.
    – Lambie
    May 6 at 13:56
  • 3
    Yes; there is often a case for choosing the attributive noun rather than the related adjective, or vice versa. They're often only broadly synonymous. 'Functional' does default to the 'working / useful' senses ... in general usage. But here, isn't this computerese? Can the term have a different sense? This will sway the default reading. But collocation is often unpredictable, illogical. You can only determine which is the better choice in context by researching standard practice in the relevant domain. May 6 at 14:00
  • My bad. I wasn't specific enough and have edited my post to explain what is actually meant by "Funktionsarchitecture" - Namey, the technical architecture of a function in a vehicle or machine. ABS or a lane-keeping assistant would be two examples.
    – Ben Pooley
    May 6 at 20:06
  • "technical architecture of a function" makes no sense.
    – Lambie
    May 6 at 20:09
  • Now we're having fun! The way this technical development is broken down, they actually have a function level, a higher-order system level, a sub-systems leven and then, finally, a component level. The component architecture is actually something completely different to the function architecture. This is actually part of the challenge - The company has some very strict terminology standards, yet simultaneously loopholes like this. as @psmears pointed out that functional programming means "programming related to/using/founded on functions" - That clarified the issue for me.
    – Ben Pooley
    May 11 at 22:31

1 Answer 1


The word functional is defined, among other definitions, as:

of, connected with, or being a function

in addition to the meaning you allude to of

performing or able to perform a regular function

So "functional architecture") can refer to architecture relating to functions, and does not have to mean "architecture that functions".

A similar phrase from another discipline is functional programming, which very much means "programming related to/using/founded on functions", rather than "programming which works".

  • 1
    You have to scroll a long way down the senses listed in dictionaries prioritising idiomaticity before you get to this sense. Assuming they carry it at all. I'd wager OED carries an 'observe with a telescope' sense for the verb 'telescope'. May 6 at 14:06
  • @EdwinAshworth: I mean, it's sense 1a in the dictionary I linked to. Granted it's far from the most common meaning, especially if you're not used to encountering it in technical contexts, but equally it's not that obscure!
    – psmears
    May 6 at 14:40
  • But you're on a loser with M-W as regards ordering wrt frequency of use of senses; like OED, it's a historical dictionary. Granted, in some cases dictionaries seem to list in order of 'closest meaning to related noun' etc, whatever they claim about their protocols. May 6 at 14:53
  • @EdwinAshworth: Yeah not claiming that first position means most frequently used!
    – psmears
    May 6 at 15:01
  • Good point with "functional programming". I see similar usage with phrases like "functional overview" where I would be more inclined to write "function overview" (opting for brevity instead of writing "Overview of the functions"). My brain just insists that "functional" means "something that functions".
    – Ben Pooley
    May 7 at 9:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

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