In the phrase "appropriate substance use information", what noun does appropriate modify? I'm guessing it is information, is that correct?

Is this a general rule? How would you go about modifying any of the other 2 nouns?

  • There's no way to tell from this sentence fragment. It could either mean appropriate information about substance use, or information about appropriate substance use. Only more context would allow us to determine which is correct. – Juhasz Dec 13 '18 at 15:30
  • Thanks for your input. I wasn't sure if this was context-dependent or if there was a general rule. – user86564 Dec 13 '18 at 15:39
  • It can be context-dependent. From the phrase alone, there's no way to tell whether this is information about the use of appropriate substances, information about the appropriate use of substances, or appropriate information about the use of substances. For all we know, it's appropriate information about the appropriate use of appropriate substances -- even a narrowly-delimited context might not disambiguate the phrase. – Gary Botnovcan Dec 13 '18 at 15:44

Without context, this phrase is ambiguous. If you want the phrase to be less ambiguous without providing additional context, then you could reword the phrase to be more explicit.

Here are some examples:

Appropriate information about substance use

Information about using appropriate substances

Information on appropriately using substances

Without any context, I think most native speakers would assume that the meaning is "appropriate information". However, not everyone would make the same assumption, and the assumption may not be correct.

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