Q: What is the correct word when writing about a patient's background in a manuscript?

Detailed Question -

When writing a manuscript, I need to write about the background of a patient. In this case, which among the following words or terms is appropriate to use?

  • Patient characteristics
  • Patient's characteristics
  • Patients' characteristics

Is there any distinction among these?

1 Answer to this question

The answers to your two questions would be: Use none of the terms, and yes, there is a distinction. Here is the difference.

  • Patient characteristics: This is somewhat misleading in that it can mean characteristics that are patient. In that case, ‘patient’ becomes the adjective and ‘characteristics’ becomes the noun – as in ‘a slow horse’, that is, ‘a horse that is slow.’
  • Patient’s characteristics: This can work, although the apostrophe implies a sense of ownership – as in [a/the] ‘patient’s car’ and [a/the] ‘patient’s head.’
  • Patients’ characteristics: The same argument as above applies here. This is simply the plural form of ‘patient’s characteristics.’

Instead, we would like to suggest ‘characteristics of the patient.’ Yes, this is slightly longer, but it conveys the meaning best (assuming there is/was only one patient).

Hope that helps. For more help on such delicate differences in the language, you may find this course useful: How to use punctuation correctly for academic writing in English