Example 1: I will bring a pen, eraser, or pencil.

Example 2: I will bring a pen, an eraser, or a pencil.

Are the above two examples both correct grammatically? If so, which is better to use in academic/professional/technical writing? Does Example 2 seem redundant?

How about in the following cases?

Example 3: I will select a black, yellow, or red shirt.

Example 4: I will select a black, a yellow, or a red shirt.

  • 2
    In a list such as above, it's normal to include the article only with the first item. You may go either way, depending on how it "sounds". – Hot Licks Sep 2 '15 at 1:57
  • I see. So, in the case of "or", I can use either case, but in the case of "and", Example 2 would be better than Example 1. Is my understanding correct? – RON Sep 2 '15 at 2:36
  • They differ in tone. Example 1 downplays what you're bringing (you're bringing something that is incidentally pencil/eraser/pen) while Example 2 emphasizes what you're bringing. – Hot Licks Sep 2 '15 at 2:48
  • 1
    Using one article per member of the list lets you use different articles. "I'll bring a pen, the pencil, and an eraser." If you don't need to do this, you are generally safe using one article for the whole set. – The Nate Nov 19 '15 at 22:42

Both are correct, with both or and and. However, the versions with the repeated article would be stylistically favored if the conjoined elements were categorically disparate (unlike writing materials or colors, as in your examples). For example, "I'll bring a bottle of gin, a wool blanket, or a ream of paper", strange is it sounds, sounds better, to my ear at least, than "I'll bring a bottle of gin, wool blanket, or ream of paper."


It's not really a matter of omitting an article. Grammatically, when you have one article, it's because there is just one noun phrase and a single article which comes before a single noun. This is because of the way conjunction works in language. When you combine several words or phrases with "and" or "or", you wind up with a single phrase of the same category as each of the things which were combined.

In your example "I will bring a pen, eraser, or pencil", when the three nouns "pen", "eraser", "pencil" are combined with "or", you get a noun (not a desk set), because the things you started with are nouns. Diagramming the structure, we have

[NP a [N [N pen] [N eraser] or [N pencil] ]

That is, "pen eraser or pencil" is a noun, so naturally it is preceded by a single article "a".

Alternatively, the same thing could be expressed with a NP which is a conjunction of three NPs, in which you naturally wind up with three articles, because each NP gets its own article:

[NP [NP a [N pen]] [NP an [N eraser]] or [NP a [N pencil]] ]

Similarly, for your example 3, there is a choice between using a single adjective formed by conjoining the three adjectives "black", "yellow", and "red", or a single noun formed by conjoining the three modified nouns "black shirt", "yellow shirt", and "red shirt".

Your example 4 is more complicated, since it is derived the preceding by Right Node Raising (RNR for short) by moving a single constituent shared by all conjuncts up higher in the structure.

I will select [NP [NP a black,] [NP a yellow,] or [NP a red,] shirt].

"shirt" is the node that is raised. It may be preceded by a comma, marking the intonation break that is heard in such constructions. (The analysis of RNR constructions is controversial.)

  • If the article applies to the list, it applies to each member of the list equally. "Bring a coat, wide hat, or umbrella." If the article applies to the list member, you need one for any appropriate list member: "These crayons come in a red, a blue, and a really strange green." (This is the same answer, just a briefer statement.) – The Nate Nov 19 '15 at 22:20

The requirement for an article before every noun in a list is one the many prescriptive grammar rules that is only partially true in descriptive grammar. If the objects in a list are highly related, the article can safely be omitted in speech, but when they are not highly related, then the article is required even in speech. As it is primarily a prescriptive grammar rule, there are many teacher's that will swear that you must always have the article, and as such any written assignment in their class should follow their rules, but in other classes, you can just use them as you normally would in speech.


for academic purpose you should use the 2nd one. it describes the the written formation as well as a respect for every option ( A pen , An eraser, A pencil) unlike the spoken manner that can nowadays do anything that seems odd.
Go for 2nd one! good luck


It would be nice if an article is placed before every item of your list when we go for formal English.

It would necessarily be unfair to expect that all of your items be individually just one in number and some of them even require "AN(s)". It may be unjust to provide a "mathematical common" of 'a' or 'an'. at the beginning of the list. What if the list includes something specific. You must have to provide a 'the' there.


By omitting the indefinite article 'a' or 'an' you are being sloppy and crude. Correct English must use an indefinite article when referring to a singular noun.

a , an
A or an is the indefinite article. It is used at the beginning of noun groups which refer to only one person or thing. The form an is used in front of words that begin with vowel sounds.

Therefore Example 1 is incorrect.

The Examples 3 and 4 refer to adjectives not nouns, therefore they are not the same question and have a different usage and answer.

Therefore Example 4 is incorrect.


The answer is very clear. Let us test the examples on the touchstone of a simple rule: where all the items enumerated, when considered singly, take same form of article (that is, all the items take either "a" or "an"), that form of article will be used with the first item without repetition of the article with the following item(s); but, if the items, when considered singly, do not take same form of article (that is, one item takes "a", while the other takes "an"), then every item will take its own article in its own form. So tested, the examples 2 and 3 in the question represent correct usage of the article. Hope I am clear.

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