How would one interpret this:

X must be a valid metric name.

This is an excerpt from software documentation if that matters.

My interpretation options are:

  1. X must be a valid name. Valid name could mean a name that do not contain invalid characters.
  2. X must be a name of a valid metric. Valid metric could mean an existing metric.

Whatever valid could mean, how does one know if valid is applied to metric or name?

Is there any generalisied rule for cases like that?

I am aware of the order of adjectives, but this is not the same, I think.

UPD: here's the direct link to the doc page. After my wider look around, I figured out that #1 is the correct one.

  • Unless the context is one where you're defining new metric names, I think you can take it for granted "valid metric name" means existing metric name. But this is just a matter of common sense. If the context is specifically that of documenting a function call which is intended to define new metric names, obviously you'd interpret it differently. In short, the "meaning" of "valid name" is context-dependent. Feb 6, 2023 at 19:57
  • btw - this is nothing to do with "the order of adjectives". The noun phrase is metric name. Where "metric" is a "noun adjunct used adjectivally" - it's not actually an adjective, so it would be syntactically invalid to refer to a metric valid name (flouting the "preferred order of actual adjectives", as in the red big ball, is "odd", but it's not syntactically invalid). Feb 6, 2023 at 20:03
  • Yes, the example sentence's source matters; please include a full citation (and link, if possible). For example, if someone who knows about software documentation is able to refer to the original document, then that person might be able to write a better (more relevant) answer than I did. Feb 7, 2023 at 3:08
  • Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer.
    – Community Bot
    Feb 7, 2023 at 8:50
  • MarcInManhattan, I've updated my question with direct link. FumbleFingers, I agree my reference to the order of adjective was not quite accurate and perhaps misleading. Thank you both, anyway, your input makes sense to me.
    – Tag Wint
    Feb 7, 2023 at 10:36

1 Answer 1


Whatever valid could mean, how does one know if valid is applied to metric or name?

Either interpretation would be grammatically correct; the difference is in meaning.

In your interpretation #1, the adjective "valid" modifies the phrase "metric name".1 If the phrase "metric name" makes sense in this context (perhaps meaning the name of some metric), then this interpretation is certainly possible.

In your interpretation #2, the phrase "valid metric" modifies the noun "name". If the phrase "valid metric" makes sense in this context, then this interpretation is certainly possible.2

Is there any generalisied rule for cases like that?

The "rule" is that the sentence must make sense syntactically (i.e., each word or phrase functions in a way that makes sense for it) and semantically (i.e., each word or phrase has a meaning that makes sense for it). As with this sentence, there may be multiple valid ways to parse it.

1 I am using a phrase-structure analysis. Other methods are certainly possible.

2 The form of the word "valid" (as opposed to "validly") suggests that it functions adjectivally (as opposed to adverbially), so "metric" is probably a noun (as opposed to an adjective).

  • I wasn't in doubt regarding the grammatical correctness of either option. Exactly the difference in meaning was my confusion point. As I can see now, the meaning could not be identified in a formal way w/o additional use of wider context and common sense :)
    – Tag Wint
    Feb 7, 2023 at 17:12
  • Nearly identical case I now recall :) and easy to make a joke out.
    – Tag Wint
    Feb 7, 2023 at 17:32
  • @TagWint Yes, that joke uses a possessive form (girls'), but it's the same idea. It's sometimes called "attachment ambiguity". Feb 7, 2023 at 20:43
  • Yes, my case is rather a valid case of a thing generally known as Syntactic ambiguity
    – Tag Wint
    Feb 8, 2023 at 16:58

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