Which of the following expressions are used in English to express the pH of solutions and the concentration of solutions? I think they are all clear to someone with knowledge of chemistry, but I want to avoid awkwardness in my English.

A. I prepared a solution such as below:

  1. a solution of pH 3
  2. a solution with pH 3
  3. a solution with a pH of 3
  4. a solution of a pH of 3


B. I prepared a solution such as below:

  1. a 3 nM buffer solution
  2. a buffer solution of 3 nM
  3. a buffer solution of 3 nM concentration
  4. a buffer solution with a concentration of 3 nM
  5. a buffer solution of a concentration of 3 nM

I'm not a native speaker and confused. Especially, can I use A-1, B-2 or 3 expressions?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ FWIW, the only ones that sound wrong to me are A4 and B5. Of course, I'm not a chemist. $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor Sep 21 '16 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ Any reader will understand A4, but it is very awkward, Do not use A4. I prefer A1. A2 is OK. A3 has two unnecessary words ("a" and "of"), but is OK. As for the Bs -- do you mean nanomoles per liter, or is "per liter" understood? : I prefer B1. B2 is OK. B3, B4, and B5 all have the word "concentration" which is unnecessary if "per liter" is understood. Of these three, B5 is like A4 -- very awkward: don't use it. B3 is better than B4 -- it has fewer unnecessary words $\endgroup$ – ab2 Sep 21 '16 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ @ab2: the units nM are for molarity, not moles. See Wikipedia. The unit mole is abbreviated mol. Again, see Wikipedia. So the "per liter" isn't just understood, it's included. And just because "concentration" is unnecessary, it doesn't mean that it's ungrammatical to include it. $\endgroup$ – Peter Shor Sep 21 '16 at 18:12
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I don’t see why this is not a valid question of usage so as a professional biochemist I am going to answer the question as a comment. If the question is released from hold I shall answer it as an answer. A-1 should be used. (A-2 is unusual, A-3 is ok in speech but too verbose for a paper, A-4 with two ofs not English.) B-1 is best. There is no need to expand it as in B-2, B-3, or B-4. B-5 has the ugly double ofs again. If you don't like B-1 you can name the buffer in a phrase such as "3 nM Tris Buffer". $\endgroup$ – David Sep 21 '16 at 19:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I would not use A1, but rather A2': ... a solution (of a chemical) with pH = 3. B1 is okay. B4 is also okay, but better would be using: with a concentration of c = 3 nmol/L. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Sep 22 '16 at 5:58

This is more a question of English usage than Chemistry, but the English Language and Usage people regarded it as “proof reading” and migrated it here. So I will move my original comment here to make it an answer (until the Chemists throw the question out).

First, you really should try to answer this yourself by looking at the style used in scientific journals relevant to your work in papers from English-speaking countries with authors whose surnames suggest they may be native speakers. Several of your alternatives are grammatically correct but unneccessarily long-winded and never used.

Having said that, my opinion (as a native English-speaking biochemist with many publications) is:

A: A-1 (“a solution of pH 3”) should be used.

The use of ‘with’ alone in A-2 is unusual, A-3 is ok in speech but too verbose for a paper, A-4 with two ‘of’s is clumsy, ugly and unnecesary.

B: B-1 (“a 3 nM buffer solution”) seems best to me — brief and correct.

There is no need to expand it as in B-2, B-3 (both of which sound clumsy and I advise you not to use), or B-4. B-5 has the ugly double ‘of’ again.

If for some reason you don’t like B-1 you can name the buffer in a phrase such as “3 nM Tris-HCl Buffer”.

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  • $\begingroup$ I find A1 at least inaccurate. A solution is not made out of pH 3, it has a property, which is pH = 3. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Sep 27 '16 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン You'll just have to live with it because that's the scientific English usage. Believe me, I'm a native speaker and have published dozens of scientific papers. Admittedly one would normally write something like "Tris-HCl buffer, pH 7.5", but A1 is the most natural of the alternatives. In any language it is pointless to try to rationalize pronoun use. $\endgroup$ – David Sep 27 '16 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ I admit, I am not a native English speaker. I am also not a chemist who deals with aqueous solutions a lot. It just sounds incredibly odd and inaccurate to me. I agree that I should have disagreed to migrating it here. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Sep 27 '16 at 11:48

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