I am a bit confused when it comes to attributive nouns, i.e. when nouns serve as adjectives. The greatest problem for me is whether I need to use attributive nouns as they are or in their -ing form. For instance, is it 'trading contacts' or 'trade contacts'?

Is there any rule that could guide me here?

  • Much the same choice arises with work / working practices, garden / gardening tools, golf / golfing shoes,... Offhand I can't think of any such pair that are generally understood to have different meanings, and I can't say what if any rule / principle might explain any such difference. Mostly, the two forms will be equivalent, but one will be more common than the other. In your case, trade contracts is far more common, but I can't see any good reason why that should happen to be the case. Apr 15, 2022 at 13:37

1 Answer 1


I am not aware of a general rule.

Most of the time, I would opt for the noun. But there are distinctions to be drawn. A trade contact (someone involved in trade) might not mean the same thing as a trading contact (someone on the trading floor of an exchange).

Similarly, there is a difference between sports contacts (those involved in sports administration) and sporting contacts (those who play sport).

Such distinctions are likely to apply in many instances. I think that it depends on the word and the context.

  • I misread OP's contracts as contracts, but regardless of that I don't recognise the distinction you make here (between trade/trading and sports/sporting both modifying "contact"). Apr 15, 2022 at 13:41
  • @FumbleFingers How about the distinctions between sleep / cloth specialists and sleeping / clothing specialists? Between drink contacts and drinking contacts, between bed manufacturers and bedding manufacturers? Apr 15, 2022 at 14:45
  • There's a huge difference between "sleep" and "sleeping" in most contexts - but although we have the highly idiomatic "sleeping partners", I don't recognise "sleep / sleeping contacts" as meaningful collocations. And there's an even bigger difference between "cloth" and "clothing" (but neither of "cloth / clothing contacts" makes much sense to me either). Finally, no-one would dispute that a "bed" (the actual item of "furniture") is completely different to "bedding" (sheets, pillows, duvets,...). Apr 15, 2022 at 15:10

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