How come we say "post office" instead of "postal office"? I asked the question because we say "postal services" instead of "post services". Please help and thank you!

"The United States Postal Service (USPS; also known as the Post Office, U.S. Mail, or Postal Service) is an independent agency of the executive branch of the United States federal government responsible for providing postal service in the United States, including its insular areas and associated states."


"post office" and "postal service" are compound nouns. The former is made up of two nouns: the latter an adjective and a noun.

When both an adjective and a noun would work, there is a (sometimes quite strong) preference, and the final noun seems to determine which form is preferable. For example, we talk about a "law office" or an "accounts office" but "legal services" and "accounting services".

It may be that, for concrete items like office and school, we prefer to use qualify it with a noun, whereas for abstract nouns like services and advice, we prefer to use the adjective.

One particular example of this is with law practice and legal practice. This Ngram graph shows similar numbers for both, but when you look at actual instances, most of the law practice references relate to a business entity, and legal practice references relate to the practice of law as an abstract concept.

  • is it a grammatical or personal preference? Mar 23 at 11:30
  • 2
    It is, perhaps a "social preference" There is not particular logic about about it and "postal office" might have been the correct term. But it isn't. As a language community we have decided that we say "post office". As someone joining this community, you have to do the same.
    – James K
    Mar 23 at 19:42
  • 1
    @AndrewTobilko in some cases, the collective preference for one form is very strong (for example, this one books.google.com/ngrams/… ), though I can't think of a situation where using the non-preferred form is grammatically incorrect.
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 24 at 11:05

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