I have been all over every grammar site I can find (including this one) and cannot find a definitive answer. I am looking for a rule that says in a list of singular nouns, each noun must have its own determiner - even if they would all be the same one.

My employer has invoked parallelism as an explanation, but I do not think that applies here - as they are already of parallel form. Everything I can find on parallelism speaks to verbs and tenses, not nouns.

I contend that it's a stylistic choice, as the meaning is clear either way - but I can't prove it.

Specific example:

"The sensor includes a right-angle infrared LED and right-angle phototransistor..."

"The sensor includes a right-angle infrared LED and a right-angle phototransistor..."

Are both right? If not, and the determiner MUST be used, where/what is the rule? If it is a stylistic thing, I just need confirmation.

  • 1
    Since you mentioned "My (your) employer" I'd caution you to consider how important this is. One might find themselves RIGHT, but unemployed. If a person it being paid to write, I'd suspect that the employer's style becomes the rule.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Apr 13, 2013 at 2:57
  • I thought I would follow up on this because I see it as humorous now. Typically, if I were one of those that were only interested in being "right," your comment would hit home. This was not the case here. I told him that I would be happy to add his choice to the style manual. This enraged him. He called me "intellectually lazy" and told me to find "his" rule. He used this childish behavior with every tiny detail to the point of being abusive. I was one of many that left. Turns out his turnover rate is around 85%. I used the experience in my last book, LOL. Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 14:22

1 Answer 1


There's no difference; what you have there is a conjoined noun phrase sharing an article, no different from the boldfaced subject of

  • The [dog and cat] continued to fight until I threw water on them.

This is a simple case of Conjunction Reduction, which deletes repeated material, hopefully without creating too much ambiguity. Indefinite articles are subject to some rather unusual restrictions (special use with mass nouns, etc), so it's not so common to see something like

  • The sensor includes a [right-angle infrared LED and right-angle phototransistor].

But, provided everything matches, as it does here, no problems.

Conjunction reduction is extremely common, and once you learn to recognize it,
you should have no trouble parsing stuff like this.
And, yes, it is a stylistic choice, like most decisions in English (or any other language).
You can quote me.

  • 1
    Since it is a style choice, I'd recommend following your boss's style. If it weren't a style chiice and you were right,.. Well it's nit like this is designing an O-ring.
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 22:48
  • 2
    It's important to avoid possible ambiguity, as John says. As an example: His order was a whisky and soda and gin and tonic. Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 23:01
  • But it's also important to vary lists in style; otherwise you might just as well present a spreadsheet. If you want text to be read instead of glanced over, don't use too much boilerplate. Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 23:06
  • 1
    Thank you. I'd vote you up, John, but I'm too much of a newbie yet! Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 23:10
  • You're welcome, and don't worry about votes. I'm not in it for the money. Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 23:16

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