In speech .exe translates to dot e-x-e. In writing, however, should one say an .exe or a .exe?

  • I would usually say "an EEE EX EEE", and probably write "an .exe" (since I wouldn't expect "DOT" to be pronounced).
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 19 '15 at 18:46
  • 2
    It depends entirely on how you read it, and on nothing else. If you speak the "dot", then 'a'; if you don't, 'an'.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 19 '15 at 21:52
  • @ColinFine What if someone reads differently than I do?
    – Vader
    Jan 19 '15 at 21:53
  • There is nothing you can do about that: they will just have to cope with it as best they can. This is one (rare) case where English spelling has no zombie rules: it wholly represents a genuine phonetic difference.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 19 '15 at 23:14

In formal technical writing, normally it is written for example

The directory contains a .exe file

because you are typing the shorthand for dot-exe.

However, you could write:

The directory contains an exe file.

However, this does NOT feel good, and IMHO, I would say that it is probably better to write:

The directory contains an executable (.exe) file

I have proof read documentation for a number of large US software companies for many long years, and that is what their guidelines (or accepted common practices) were.

I hope that helps.

P.S. I personally would not say that this is a duplicate question, as it pertains more to formal technical writing, than common day narrative. The forms can vary somewhat. :-)

  • How would you read out the preferred abbreviated version? PS If it's a formal technical usage rather than everyday English, it may well be off-topic. Jan 19 '15 at 22:45
  • "dot-EXE". Same as "dot-COM" for a .COM file, or "dot-S-H" for a shell script file. However, in rapid (informal techno) chat between close colleagues the "dot" is dropped, so "open the EXE file", "click on the SH file". "Go to BBC CO UK" is the extreme version of this, all dots are dropped, but can cause confusion for non-techies, who I have seen type "bbccouk" and then wonder why the news web site doesn't appear! :-) .BAT files, are orally referred to as BATCH files (just one syllable), not really heard "dot-BAT". Jan 19 '15 at 23:27
  • Thank you. It looks like a foreign language. I can manage Biro. Jan 20 '15 at 10:22

The a/an distinction depends on the pronunciation of the next word, not the letter it begins with, e.g. an X-ray, a unit vs. a xylophone, an uncle.

If you intend it to be pronounced a dot e-x-e then write it as such.

  • 1
    Exactly. Dot starts with /d/, which is a consonant, so one should use a before it: a .exe file. However, if you intend to start without the "dot", with the name of the firse letter E /i/, then you should use an before it, because /i/ is a vowel: an .exe file. Jan 19 '15 at 19:10

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