There is nothing sacred about definitions. We can define a word how we like for our own purposes, provided we do so clearly and unambiguously.

at least according to Richard Dawkins...

Suppose I have a sentence:

Habitat selection studies provide an insight into resource selection function of animals (RSF).

My problem with this sentence is that word "function" evoke some deep mathematical background, for example some sort of complex mathematical formula. For the purpose of the article (not hard-core math used) I have temptation to replace "function" with "pattern".

Would it be tolerable? What is the native speaker view? Do the animals select the features of their environment according to function or may I say some pattern?

Are these words interchangeable?

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    A quick search shows that "resource selection function (RSF)" is an idiom in (evolutionary) zoology, so changing it to something else may confuse readers. I agree with Dawkins, but you are not adapting a definition for your own use here. I would stick with the known, and widely used idiom in this case.
    – oerkelens
    Feb 10, 2014 at 17:36
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    A side note: studies provide, not provides (subject-verb agreement, probably a typo here). Feb 10, 2014 at 17:57
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    "Function" is used in mathematical and other sciences as you pointed out, but "function" also applies to living creatures as well: "I function well in a stress-free environment". There are many meanings to that word.
    – tuespetre
    Feb 10, 2014 at 22:37
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    You need to place "the" before "resource". "Habitat selection studies provide an insight into the resource selection function of animals" Or better, "Habitat selection studies provide some insight into the resource selection function of animals."
    – Placidia
    Feb 11, 2014 at 0:45

2 Answers 2


A common practice when introducing an idiom or abbreviation in prose is to write it out completely when first used in a text, followed immediately by its abbreviation in parentheses, as in the example you cite for RSF. For this reason alone, I would be quite hesitant to change it.

Further, as commenters have pointed out, the word "function," though having a clear definition in the field of mathematics, is not limited in its use to mathematical topics. Though frequently used as a verb, e.g., "I don't know how to function in social situations" or "He functions as the de facto manager of his team," it can also be used as a noun, e.g., "Its function was unknown to me."


I would say in the question of your case, yes you could replace it and not only make the sentence sound better, it’s meaning is clearer. It sounds like your studies are to see and chart the patterns these animals follow. Ergo, your choice to use pattern is the better choice.

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