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I use source control management software at work. When I commit some changes, I annotate them with the bare infinitive like this:

  • "add new feature", "fix bug #10012"

I note that some of my colleagues use past tense instead:

  • "new feature added", "bug #10012 fixed"

Or sometimes:

  • "added new feature", "fixed #10012 bug"

Which of these annotations is grammatically correct? Are any of them weird or simply wrong?

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marked as duplicate by tchrist, jwpat7, Kristina Lopez, coleopterist, MετάEd Mar 15 '13 at 22:12

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3 Answers

up vote 0 down vote accepted

I regard your form – a present-tense verb followed by a noun phrase – as a reasonable and proper approach. The other two forms, with a past-tense verb, are grammatically acceptable but are not forms I like to see in log entries.

Below are four examples from the gnu.org “Style of Change Logs” webpage, with a few ellipses not indicated, and some examples from gitref.org's “filter your commit history” section, again with ellipses. The mentioned webpages don't comment on grammatical form of log entries, but with only a few exceptions the examples on those pages use present tense verbs followed by noun phrases.

* register.el (insert-register): Return nil.
* sort.el (sort-subr): Return nil.
* tex-mode.el (tex-bibtex-file, tex-file, tex-region): Restart the tex shell if process is gone or stopped.
* expr.c (store_one_arg): Round size up for move_block_to_reg
81b50f3 Move 'builtin-*' into a 'builtin/' subdirectory
3bb7256 make "index-pack" a built-in
377d027 make "git pack-redundant" a built-in
d43427d Documentation/remote-helpers: Fix typos and improve language
272a36b Fixup: Second argument may be any arbitrary string
b6c8d2d Documentation/remote-helpers: Add invocation section
00b84e9 Documentation/remote-helpers: Rewrite description

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That might be a bare infinitive, not a present tense form. “Revision 3.15.1: Be more careful about pre-mapping return values”. See what I mean? –  tchrist Mar 15 '13 at 14:06
@tchrist, no, I don't see. Which sentence do you refer to? Also, referring to imperatives rather than bare infinitives probably is more useful in the context of this question, even though imperative form and bare infinitive are the same here. Also, the log note in your comment is badly worded and I don't regard it as a legitimate example. –  jwpat7 Mar 15 '13 at 14:30
I suppose it might be imperative; it just isn’t present tense. And here are “legitimate” examples from actual check-in logs if that is so sillily important to you: "Be more precise about ANYOF matching flag"; "Be paranoid about PL_origargv."; "Be careful to pull chars from the varargs stack when"; "Be inspired more by Hugo-- introduce HAS_MODFL_POW32_BUG."; "Be more lenient on bad UTF-8 when doing bit arithmetics."; "Be less forgiving about ambiguous and illegal tr ranges."; "Be more careful about 'o' magic memory management"; "Be a little more robust about OS version changes when deciding". –  tchrist Mar 15 '13 at 14:54
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Short answer

Stop worrying about it.

Long answer

If you want to follow the rules of formal, prescriptive grammar, none of the annotations are correct. (Where's the subject? Where are the determiners?) Clearly, prescriptivism is the wrong approach here.

So we should take the descriptivist approach, and the first rule of descriptivism is:

If lots of people like you say it that way, it's fine; if none of them do, it's wrong.

So if most of your colleagues were using the past tense, I would advise you to switch. But since only some of them are, there's no problem.

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Your usage doesn't seem to be the infinitive, because you aren't using "to" before the verb. Instead, what you have written reads as either the imperative, or in other words, a directive or command. "Add new feature" seems to be ordering someone to add a new feature.

If you added a new feature, why would you not say this? Isn't it obvious that "added new feature" is the accurate way of stating this?

However, ultimately one must say that there really isn't much of a grammar question involved here, because grammar is structure, and these phrasal fragments don't really carry much structure at all. Because of this, and because of their usage for a special case, you pretty much have the option of making up anything you want to say here. My point about the tense being the most important consideration is just one way of looking at how you might make your choice of what locution to use. Not really a matter of grammar, but a matter of what works best for you and your fellow programmers.

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