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The first form sounds to me the correct one (I'm not English mother tongue), describing a freelance consultant in electronics (or electronic engineering): is it right?

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You sense correctly that the first noun in a compound word, i.e., used attributively, is rarely used in the plural. A toothbrush is not for a single tooth, but *teethbrush does not exist. A peach tree also bears more than one peach.

Fields of study or other activities such as:

mathematics, physics, linguistics, phonetics, electronics; athletics, gymnastics

are not true plurals and are always used with a singular verb. Thus the s must remain to indicate they are indeed nouns and not adjectives:

mathematics professor, physics grad student, phonetics book, gymnastics coach

Without the s, an *electronic consultant would suggest a very clever, electrically powered robot. Thus electronics consultant is the word you want.

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  • Thanks for the answers, sometimes I'm in doubt about false friends with my mother tongue, that create insidious pitfalls. – LuC Feb 23 '18 at 18:20
  • @LuC: I don't know of any other language that does anything like this. – KarlG Feb 23 '18 at 18:47
  • while with "electronic"/"electronics" this isn't the case with Italian (in my case), as the two translate to "elettronico"(adj.)/"elettronica"(n.), there are very close cases. – LuC Feb 24 '18 at 21:11
  • take as an example "informatico", I could say "consulente informatico" for "IT consultant", but "informatico" is both noun and adjective, and at the same time we have "informatica" that can be used when referring to information technology in general. Moreover we have some other different cases where we have a single word, take as an example "psychopath"/"psychopathic": in Italian we have a single word for both. – LuC Feb 24 '18 at 21:20
  • Oh wait, I was forgetting to decline it to feminine: in this case "elettronica" in Italian is both name and feminine adjective. Think of anything simple and there's some way to make it complex, in some language :) – LuC Feb 24 '18 at 21:31
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"electronics" is a noun. "electronic" is an adjective. When a noun is preceded by an adjective, that adjective is understood as directly modifying the noun, so an "electronic consultant" would be a consultant that is electronic. When a noun is preceded by a noun, however, that preceding noun is generally understood to modify the following noun in a more context-dependent way. In the case of "electronics consultant", "electronics" is understood the be the subject matter on which the person consults.

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  • As you say, an electronic consultant would be a consultant who was electronic. This suggests an Artificial Intelligence to me. Possibly a second career for Lieutenant Commander Data? – BoldBen Feb 24 '18 at 20:55

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