Is the adjective or noun form of 'pathogen' needed in this phrase:

Seed-borne fungal pathogen infection on the rice crop is an interesting subject of research.

Pathogen or pathogenic?

"Seedborne pathogenic fungi can greatly affect seed quality and cause diseases that impact seedling production in nurseries. Management strategies for the control of various seedborne diseases are based on the epidemiology of the diseases and the biology of the host and pathogen. This paper provides a brief review of seedborne fungal problems that affect conifer seeds and discusses established and potential control practices." source.

  • Possible duplicate of Noun used as an adjective in "passenger seat"? Dec 1, 2015 at 3:29
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    I'm not sure if we can generalize from the other post to this particular case. Why don't we leave this open for now and keep that link handy as a related question?
    – user230
    Dec 1, 2015 at 3:57
  • @NathanTuggy: I don't think so.
    – embio
    Dec 1, 2015 at 4:15
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    Sentence would read better worded as "...pathogen infection on rice crops is an..."
    – lurker
    Dec 1, 2015 at 4:19
  • @embio: A bare rejection of a possible dupe is not particularly useful; can you explain the ways in which that question does not answer this one? Dec 1, 2015 at 4:20

1 Answer 1


The difference is very subtle. Let's start with the Google test: fungal pathogen infection (~25,000 results) vs fungal pathogenic infection (~160 results). Therefore we're pretty sure both are possible, but "fungal pathogen infection" is strongly preferred, but we still don't know why.

I think the difference is what is modified by the adjective "fungal". I think we prefer "fungal" to modify "pathogen". Although the infection is fungal, it is more precise to say that the pathogen is fungal. Thus we prefer "fungal pathogen infection", parsed as ((fungal pathogen) infection). On the other hand, if we said "fungal pathogenic infection", then "fungal" would modify "infection" and it would be parsed as (fungal (pathogenic infection))---I think this is still correct but less precise.

  • Although Google Search doesn't work very well as a corpus (the result estimates aren't particularly reliable), these strings are uncommon enough that most of the usual corpora don't work very well, either. Google Scholar is a good source, though, because it gives us exact counts and lets us see every single result. Google Scholar gives us 414 results versus 9 results, so the ratio you found in Google Search seems pretty reasonable.
    – user230
    Dec 1, 2015 at 4:59
  • I did the editing to put a link, which showed that "pathogenic" is used as an adjective.
    – embio
    Dec 1, 2015 at 5:04

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