Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

"At work, it is bad practice to go to lunch early."
"At work, it is a bad practice to go to lunch early."

The noun "practice" is both countable and uncountable. So, could both sentences be usable?

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

Yes, but they mean different things.

Bad practice, like good practice and best practices, are generic technical business terms referring to the way(s) in which businesses ought to operate. They generally refer to an official policy (of an individual concern, or perhaps of a governing agency) that is to be followed by everyone involved.

A bad practice, on the other hand, is like a bad idea; it generally means that you can get into trouble doing that. It's advice not to go to lunch early, and it's likely to be more personal than official.

Of course, the reason why you can get into trouble might be that going to lunch early is against company policy, so there's a broad area of synonymy between the two constructions.

share|improve this answer
    
Thank you, Mr Lawler! So "practice" (uncountable) is more formal than "a practice" (countable)? –  Nortonn S Jul 9 '12 at 16:31
2  
It's more generic and less individuated. "Formality" proper depends on details of the speech situation; it's a pragmatic notion, rather than being part of the meaning of a word itself. –  John Lawler Jul 9 '12 at 16:38
    
Just think what you are trying to convey. If you want to focus on this particular behavoiur, it's 'a bad practice'. –  Barry Brown Jul 10 '12 at 17:16

Just think what you are trying to convey. If you want to focus on this particular behavoiur, it's 'a bad practice'.

'Bad practice' (uncountable, no article) shows that you are talking about the way one's responsibilities should be performed, perhaps the way one practises law, dentristy etc.

I favour 'a bad practice' in the case given unless the implication is that a client's interest might be damaged by the early taking of lunch (not likely).

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.