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Say I have application that tracks TODO items; each TODO item has a status, e.g. "Not Started", "In Progress", "Completed", etc.

Which phrasing is the most appropriate to display in the application?

  1. You have 5 items in status "Not Started"
  2. You have 5 items with status "Not Started"
  3. You have 5 items of status "Not Started"

I prefer #1. My rationale is that, I consider "status" to be synonymous with "state," and things reside in a state rather than possess a state. But I am open to persuasion otherwise.

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“You have 5 items whose status still reads ‘Not Started’, and we’re only 3 days from release.” –  tchrist Nov 13 '13 at 18:34
@tchrist This is only a slight exaggeration of standard programming deadlines. –  Zibbobz Nov 13 '13 at 18:40
You have five items 'in' a state of not having been started, all 'with' the status 'of' "not started". –  WS2 Nov 13 '13 at 20:40
You have 5 items not yet started. –  Jim Nov 14 '13 at 7:40
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2 Answers

As someone who's using your app for the first time, I would not find the second option awkward, probably because I am used to such phrasing in similar contexts. Do you have to use the word status? It seems most apps go for this phrasing: You have 5 items marked as "Not Started". In case marked is not fitting, you might still use an attribute for the item itself, such as filed or saved.

This is more of an app design related consideration: wouldn't a table be suitable to display such information? You might bypass space limitation this way.

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The problem with #1 is that it makes it sound as if "Not Started" contains those 5 items, when in reality they are unrelated to one another, and you want to avoid giving the feeling that they are somehow related outside the incidental "Not Started" status. #2 is fairly good, but could be misinterpreted again to mean that these items belong to the same group, when they are likely to be very different from one another. #3 works, though it is a little awkward, and doesn't have a ready way to make it sound less awkward.

None of these as-written are quite right, but I feel your pain for designing an app that is both gramatically correct and easy to discern information from.

If you have the option to do so without causing problems with other 'status' messages, you could just say "You have 5 items that are "Not Started". Or if you dont' mind being slightly more wordy, "You have 5 items with the status "Not Started".

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My issue is that the possible status values are not all adjectival (and are out of my phrasing control). So, 'You have 5 items that are "Not Started"' sounds great, but 'You have 5 items that are "Due Date Assigned"' doesn't. with the status sounds OK, but there are space limitations to consider. –  BDKosher Nov 13 '13 at 18:46
@BDKosher I had a feeling space limitation would be a consideration. I'd still recommend with the status as a solution, if it can fit. You should also consider "that are" anyway, since the slight disjunction is easy to ignore when the user knows that a item can have a status, and that "due date assigned' is a valid status. –  Zibbobz Nov 13 '13 at 18:51
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