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I was wondering about the difference between these two expressions is.

  1. application field (generic)
  2. field application (I think this is specialist jargon in engineering).

Apparently they indicate the same, but I think it isn't so.

Can changing the position of just two words cause a notable difference in meaning?

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When two nouns are employed this way, the second is the 'head' of the phrase and designates the primary meaning; the first is used 'attributively', meaning that it modifies or restricts the reference of the second.

Consequently, these alternatives have quite different meanings.

  • An application field is a specific kind of field: perhaps the field or domain which is covered by a particular application, or the field or domain in which something is applied.

  • A field application is a specific kind of application: perhaps an application suitable for use within a specific field (which might be a particular professional discipline or a gravitational or electromagnetic area of influence, or a literal agricultural area); or an application suitable for use "in the field", meaning "in real-life situations" as opposed to in theory or in a laboratory; or it might be an act of applying something in any of these sorts of field.

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Grammatically, application is the attributive in application field, and field is the attributive in field application. In the first case, you are talking about a field (whatever meaning field has); in the second case you are talking about an application (whatever meaning application has).

Changing the word order changes the meaning: Application field could mean "area in a smart card housing different uses or applications"; field application could mean "the application of a material, such as paint, at a job site, as opposed to being applied at a factory."

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