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This question may be a tad technical but I don't know where better to ask it, so here goes.

All dictionaries I have say that the word "template" is a countable noun and this is pretty much consistent with my experience. But I see one counter example all the time that goes something like this:

We used the cDNA as template for standard PCR.

It seems as if the word "template" is used as an uncountable noun here where I would have expected to see an indefinite article so that it read "..as a template for standard PCR."

The word "template" does appear to be countable in most other constructions, even in this technical sense used in molecular biology.

Does this phenomenon has something to do with the use of the preposition "as" as in "He was also in the room acting as interpreter to the President"? I understand that in constructions like the last sentence, it is common to use a countable noun without an "a/an."

Thank you.

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    This just looks like a mistake to me, ie that it should have "as" or "the" before "template". May 20, 2016 at 14:20
  • Although it appears that "template" is used commonly in this sense when related to PCR - "DNA is used as template in nested PCR", for example. Google turns up nearly 700k hits for "as template" and PCR: google.co.uk/… May 20, 2016 at 14:48
  • That should read "as the (or a) template". As for seeing it all the time, I could only pull it up by googling (including Google Scholar) twice in addition to your question here, so it can't be that common. May 20, 2016 at 14:49
  • @ProfYaffle - Remarkably different Google results! "as Template" (in a title, when articles are often skipped) did appear frequently enough. May 20, 2016 at 14:51
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    Well I consulted my dearly beloved (whose PhD involved lots of PCR), and she sat there and looked puzzled... "the use is familiar, but not correct" was her conclusion. In other words, "use as template" may be in common use in some sectors of this field (and thus appear in papers from particular countries?), but it's not universal. It could be considered regional jargon unless and until it gets adopted universally (or dies out again). May 21, 2016 at 10:54

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From research and consulting with a PhD microbiologist (my wife) - the conclusion was that this is a relatively common usage in this field, but isn't necessarily universally understood or correct, as the grammatically-sound "as a template" would also be acceptable.

You can see in the comments above that several Google searches yielded differing views of just how common this is, but searches get confused between template as a noun form (we took it as template and...) and adjectival forms (we took it as template input and...). It's difficult to get a definitive view without a lot of searching.

It probably hails from a particular country, and has spread a bit as "biologist vernacular". Whether it's from a non-English speaking country (e.g. Russia or China) and is thus a translation error, or whether it's just fashionable PCR-speak from e.g. the USA... that I can't answer.

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