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My colleague and I have been discussing an error message for a piece of software that we've been developing together. The message should state that the program has been unable to find certain files at a certain path. The question is, which of the following is correct:

1) The path 'C:\foo\bar' appears to be incorrect.

2) The 'C:\foo\bar' path appears to be incorrect.

My colleague insists that the second variant should be preferred over the first one, but for me it looks wrong. Who is right?

In general, can I use a quoted phrase as an attribute for a noun? E.g.

The phrase "bla-bla-bla" is...

or

The "bla-bla-bla" phrase is...

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While both of your examples are grammatically correct in a strict sense, the first is the far more applicable and natural formulation.

In a restrictive appositive phrase, the second noun or noun phrase modifies the first one, restricting or narrowing its sense. Consider a conversation:

My brother took a new job.
I thought you had two brothers. Which one?
My brother Jake.

Similarly,

The path appears to be incorrect.
What is the path?
The path 'C:\foo\bar'

There are situations where Jake my brother has a new job is idiomatic, but this formulation is not very common, as in most conversations, there will be more possible brothers than Jakes.

Jake took a new job.
Already? He's only been here a month.
I'm talking about Jake my brother, not Jake from Accounting.

A writer might employ such a formulation deliberately, to highlight a contrast or for antanaclasis:

The success of Donald Trump the brand far exceeds the success of Donald Trump the man.

Half a century later, he could speak of Vietnam the country and not Vietnam the war.

It's unlikely, however, that you are aiming for a literary effect in your error message. As 'C:\foo\bar' is not going to be anything other than a path, The 'C:\foo\bar' path appears to be incorrect sounds "backwards" to me and I would advise against it.

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