Nouns as adjectives

 

Some authors advise against using nouns as adjectives, but consider the following example, where the first two words are nouns functioning as adjectives:

 

            (a) Plant disease diagnosis requires both traditional and new techniques.

 

To avoid using the nouns as adjectives, you would need to add two prepositional phrases:

 

            (b) The diagnosis of diseases of plants requires both traditional and new techniques.

 

How do you decide which is better? As always, use your ear (listen for rhythm or its absence) and most importantly, consider your reader. I would use (a) because the noun string isn't difficult to understand and doesn't wring the rhythm from the sentence, whereas the repetitive start of (b) The diagnosis/ of diseases /of plants/ is deadening. A third version would be fine:

           

            (c) The diagnosis of plant disease requires both traditional and new techniques.

 

Now let's use a longer string of nouns as adjectives:

 

            (d) Plant disease diagnosis technology has become sophisticated.

 

Your ear and brain should tell you that something is wrong with (d). When too many nouns are strung together as adjectives, the reader must wait too long to understand how the nouns are functioning. There is also a consonance problem (disease diagnosis technology).

I would revise (d) to (e) but not to (f):

 

            (e) The technology of plant disease diagnosis has become sophisticated.

 

            (f) The technology of the diagnosis of diseases of plants has become sophisticated.

 

 

In the following example (g), note how the excessive use of nouns as adjectives complements a static writing style:

 

            (g) Earthworm burrow construction information has increased our understanding of soil stable aggregate formation.

 

Rather than resorting to prepositions, I would find an actor and action.

 

            (h) By studying how earthworms construct burrows, we better understand how stable aggregates form.