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I have a little issue with the use of zero versus definite article, since I tend to abuse the former one.

Consider the following sentences:

  • The issue described above influences the quality of software.
  • This general issue affects the speed of applications.
  • This affects the reliability of hardware.

The use of software, applications and hardware seems to me 'general', so according to what I know about english grammar, zero article should be used.

Suppose to add an adjective to 'specialize' such nouns, but still staying relatively general (i.e., not referring to specific applications).

  • The issue described above influences the quality of the? produced software.
  • This general issue affects the speed of the? deployed applications.
  • This affects the reliability of the? produced hardware.

In these last cases, is it mandatory to use the definite article or is zero article still acceptable? Is there grammar reference that justifies the answer?

  • I this the article is optional in both cases. BTW, we would say "no article", not "zero article". – Barmar Nov 11 '14 at 19:08
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    @Barmar - Some linguists use zero article, for example, Sidney Greenbaum in The Oxford English Grammar, 1996.98 – tunny Nov 11 '14 at 19:47
  • OK, but when you use the word zero, the word after it should then be pluralized, e.g. zero articles. – Barmar Nov 11 '14 at 19:53
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    @Barmar Really? Who told you that? – Araucaria Nov 11 '14 at 21:01
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    @Barmar You seem to be confusing the use of zero as a cardinal number (zero articles, one article, two articles), and the use of zero as a noun used as modifier in a compound (a zero article, The Zero Theorem). Granted, the OP is partially responsible because they are so fond of dropping articles they constantly write things like "zero article should be used", where "a zero article should be used" or "the zero article should be used" would be more correct. – Yoav Kallus Nov 12 '14 at 0:22
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The article serves a clarifying purpose. It's not necessary, but consider these contextual sentences:

  • Exiting the application does not automatically save the form. This issue affects the quality of the software.

In this example, the article on "the software" tells the reader that the sentence is referring to a specific example of software, i.e. the software to which the bug report is relevant. If the second sentence were to omit the article, it would read as, "This issue affects the quality of software," which is a blatant falsehoods; a bug in your software does not affect the quality of any other kind of software.

The same is likely true for the third of your examples. Omitting the article would create a statement suggesting that the issue affects the reliability of the production of hardware in general, which may or may not be what you mean to say. It's hard to tell without more context. If your intent is to state that "this" affects the reliability of an explicitly referenced kind of produced hardware, you need the article.

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    Your example is perfectly clear to me, thanks. I want to try to clarify my doubt. Consider the following variation: > - Our approach would improve the quality of the? produced software. If I want to claim that the approach would be beneficial for software production in general, that would "justify" the use of zero article. However, implicitly, the sentence refers to the software which actually follows the specific approach, so it is not general software anymore. In this case the first choice would (wrongly) emphasize some absent generality. Would it be simply wrong? – Mannimarco Nov 11 '14 at 19:41
  • That is correct. It would be wrong, but it should be obvious in the overall context of the writing that it is wrong. If you are talking about a specific example of software and then somehow make a claim that the approach you use to produce that software would improve the quality of all produced software, that's a pretty wild claim and probably not what you mean to say. That's why you need the article. If you leave it out, you change the meaning of your sentence. – R Mac Nov 11 '14 at 20:08

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