Basically, me and my colleagues (not native English speakers) had a discussion on whether we need "the" or not in this sentence:

Administrative / system passwords shouldn't be used in the code.

I've read this and this, but these posts do not talk about "the" usage with the word. I've also inspected this MS article for occurrences of "code", but they do not necessarily talk about code in general sense.

In the sentence in question the word "code" is used as a programming jargon, so it's uncountable. We talk about coding practice in general (that applies to both, already written code and future coding). So that's a general type of recommendation.


The situation is that we found some code having this issue. So, this is the reason why we write the recommendation. But we never mention or by other means point to the exact code, we just know it is there. We want to make the recommendation sound like it is also for future coding.

Edit 2

As long as it might have some tint of "locality", as Useless states, this is a reasonable candidate for a universal rule! On this page it can be seen that in some cases the can be used while talking about the general case:

We also use the definite article:

• to say something about all the things referred to by a noun:

The wolf is not really a dangerous animal. (= Wolves are not really dangerous animals)
The heart pumps blood around the body. (= Hearts pump blood around bodies)

We use the definite article in this way to talk about musical instruments:

Joe plays the piano really well. (= Joe can play any piano)
She is learning the guitar. (= She is learning to play any guitar)

• to refer to a system or service:

How long does it take on the train.
I heard it on the radio.

This is EXACTLY why the question arose at the beginning, as we all agreed that this is a general recommendation for all the cases in the universe.

(Your answers did not touch on this type of "the" usage so far. If you did, this might solve the dilemma. Could it be the case that the examples I've just pasted are only applicable to countable things, therefore, would not apply to "code"?)

  • If you are referring to a specific body of computer instructions then you use "the". If you are referring to any body of instructions omit it. In the above case, since it appears to refer to a specific scenario, the article should be used. – Hot Licks Apr 24 '15 at 10:30
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    However, "systemic" is not valid computer jargon -- it should be "system". – Hot Licks Apr 24 '15 at 10:31
  • (And, I suppose, "user" should be omitted. The categories of passwords are generally "user" and "system" (or "administrative").) – Hot Licks Apr 24 '15 at 10:34
  • @HotLicks Thanks for the tips, I'll remember that! I've corrected the original post. – ZygD Apr 24 '15 at 10:37

X shouldn't be used in code

would usually mean any code, ie, this is a general guideline. Conversely

X shouldn't be used in the code

limits your scope to some specific code already under discussion.

Off-topic, I agree with the former statement, but might use the latter to avoid unnecessary arguments about generalities.

  • What about another "the" usage shown in Edit 2? Wouldn't that be also valid? – ZygD Apr 24 '15 at 15:00
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    Those examples aren't mass or uncountable nouns. For example you could use "The wolf" or "A wolf" almost interchangeably in the first example, but you'd never refer to "a code" unless you were discussing cryptographic or information coding schemes. If you want to focus on the details of combining the definite article with countable and uncountable nouns, I think that might be a new question :) – Useless Apr 24 '15 at 16:02

You're right about code being uncountable in that sense. Oxford lists this sense of code as a mass noun. But I believe your question is regarding the sentence you quoted. In that particular case, you are talking about code that is implied to be previously mentioned.

You're going to have to include the the.

Administrative / system user passwords shouldn't be used in the [uncountable] code (that we're talking about).

  • @ZygD system user passwords shouldn't be used in code doesn't sound wrong. But it does sound too generic. If you don't mind sounding like you're talking about all code in the world, go for it. Or you could make it a bit more specific. As in, ...used in system code/java code/our code – Tushar Raj Apr 24 '15 at 11:45
  • Saying "... shouldn't be used in code..." implies a universal rule, and somewhere on Earth (or in the Universe) is a situation where it will be false. "... shouldn't be used in the code..." implies that you're talking about "our code" or "the code for this system". – Hot Licks Apr 24 '15 at 12:30
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    This is actually a reasonable candidate for a universal rule, though - it's pretty much always a bad idea. – Useless Apr 24 '15 at 12:40
  • In case I actually meant the universal rule, couldn't "the" be used? Could you please read Edit 2? – ZygD Apr 24 '15 at 15:02

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