Do I need to include an article (if yes, which one) before words that can be either a verb or a noun?

For example, consider "install."

Do I say "After inserting the disk, you need to run install" or "[...], you need to run the install"?

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    In the case you've provided, isn't install short for the installation software? – scohe001 Jul 16 '14 at 21:55

I don't think install is widely accepted as a noun. It should be

After inserting the disk, you need to run the installer

However, if there is a file named "install" which must be run, then

After inserting the disk, you need to run install[.ext]

is fine.

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    When a name is involved, it is normal to show this by the use of quotes: Press 'Go'. (or Press the 'Go' button.) However, computers have hijacked punctuation for their own purposes, so it makes sense to defer to their dictates if you want the thing to work. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 16 '14 at 22:09
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    Anything can be used as a noun. Because anything can be a name. It doesn't matter how common it is. Strange names are very uncommon. If what one calls it is the install program, either the install or just install is perfectly fine. Or you could call your script George, and say Just run George; anything that's understood is OK. And there are no consistent rules for article usage; only several hundred special rules for individual idiomatic uses. – John Lawler Jul 16 '14 at 22:15
  • @JohnLawler That's true but I suspect the root of the OP's confusion might be that "install" is one of those special cases that is often used incorrectly, outside of the "program named 'install'" situation you've described. In computing, "install" is very often inappropriately used as a short form of the noun "installation", for reasons I don't understand. An English learner exposed to such examples could certainly become legitimately confused. The fact that programs literally named "install" exist complicates it even further, but isn't the sole explanation for this particular word. – Jason C Jul 16 '14 at 22:27
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    There is no "correct" for computing language. 60 years ago there were no computers, so there was no computing language at all. Everything since has been made up on the spot out of metaphors and duck tape, and reification always levels irregular morphology. Look at New England/*English boiled dinner, or the Toronto Maple Leafs/*Leaves. – John Lawler Jul 16 '14 at 22:54
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    I also claim that, for these reasons, "install" is a poor example for the general question about using articles in front of nouns vs. verbs, which I presume is regarding formal language, not computing jargon. – Jason C Jul 16 '14 at 23:08

In general you would use articles before common nouns and not before verbs or names.

You can "install" something. You cannot "the install" something.

The choice of "install" as an example for your question is not the best due to its common use in computing jargon, which is potentially contributing to your confusion of the word form. There is no formal noun "install". In the OED the only entries for "install" as a noun are exclusively from the writings of G. M. Hopkins circa 1880:

  • 1871 G. M. Hopkins Jrnls. & Papers (1959) 207 These are not ribs; they are a ‘wracking’ install made of these two realities—the frets,..and the whiter field of sky shewing between.
  • 1874 G. M. Hopkins Jrnls. & Papers (1959) 244 True bold realism but quite a casual install of woodland.
  • 1874 G. M. Hopkins Jrnls. & Papers (1959) 245 Happy use of openings, accidental installs, people's feet, hands etc seen through.
  • c1883 G. M. Hopkins Serm. & Devotional Writings (1959) ii. iii. 146 For accidental being, such as that of the broken fragments of things or things purely artificial or chance ‘installs’, has no true and intrinsic oneness or true self.

However, "install" is often used as a noun in computing circles as a colloquial shortening of "installation" (e.g. "I am working with a fresh Windows install" or "After the install is complete, ..."), or "installer". Correct formal usage would be e.g. "After the installation is complete, ...".

"You need to run install" would only make sense if there was a program named "install" that you had to run, where "install" is a name.

"You need to run the install" would only make sense if "install" were used in the jargon sense as a shortened form of "installer". The article is used as "install" is a common noun in this context, not a verb.

"After you complete the install" would only make sense if "install" were used in the jargon sense as a shortened form of "installation". The article is used as "install" is a common noun in this context, not a verb.

Even in the casual forms of your example, articles follow the usual rules; if the word is being used as a common noun you would use an article, if it is being used as a verb, or a name, you would not. It is inconsequential that the noun and verb are the same spelling.

  • Wiktionary states that the noun 'install' exists. Language moves on. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 16 '14 at 22:43
  • @EdwinAshworth Wiktionary states that the noun "install" exists as as a shortened form of "installation" or "installer", and that this usage is "informal" and "jargon", which is precisely what I said here. Still, I have edited to clarify any ambiguity for you. – Jason C Jul 16 '14 at 23:05
  • Like 'phone' exists as a shortened form of 'telephone'. Wiktionary actually says that this 'Usage originated as a truncated form of the word installation.' Here is an article clearly endorsing the use of 'install' as a noun. I'm sure it must be included in OED as such. (Incidentally, an informal register does not imply incorrectness.) – Edwin Ashworth Jul 16 '14 at 23:21
  • @EdwinAshworth No, not like "phone" exists as a shortened form of "telephone". Also, your stated Wiktionary definition is exactly what I wrote. Also, the exclusive usage of "install" as a noun in the OED is in G.M. Hopkins' writings circa 1880. Also, the question is not about "install", "install" is a poor example of the generic question of articles in front of verbs / nouns. Also, none of this is in contradiction with anything written in this answer, and so I'm not sure what you are stating. – Jason C Jul 16 '14 at 23:38
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    @EdwinAshworth You need to clarify what you are arguing here and what in this answer you find disagreeable. What you are saying is interesting but I cannot give you an interesting response in return without knowing how it relates to the question, the example, or my answer, and I am genuinely confused regarding your intentions at this point. – Jason C Jul 17 '14 at 0:01

Yes some words can be both nouns and verbs. This is quite common in English, where it's caused by zero-derivation. An example is the the verb to comb and the noun a comb. I believe that no one knows which was the original word and which one came second!

But it appears that this has confused you about how words work in sentences. In a sentence a word cannot be both a noun and a verb! The construction of the sentence will provide the context for you to determine whether or not the word is a noun or a verb. Comb can either be a noun or a verb, but it can't be both at the same time.

When comb is a verb it is completely ungrammatical to put an article before it.

When comb is a noun you will usually put an article before it, but not always, such as in the sentence 'Combs are easy to lose.'

For the example you provide, I think the most natural option would be to treat Install as a proper noun. So use a capital letter, no article, and perhaps even with quotes:

After inserting the disk run "Install".


Generally speaking, an article is used to indicate the noun directly following it when that noun represents a specific thing, or specifically understood between the two people speaking.

  • This doesn't seem to answer the question that was asked. – phenry Jul 16 '14 at 22:54
  • It could answer the question asked if you edit it to explain what should happen when the "noun" is rather abstract, as in the example given in the question. – Andrew Leach Jul 16 '14 at 22:59

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