I am wondering if the scientific control can be used as an uncountable noun.

For example,

One tube was used as control while the other received 0.1 pg/ml of PMA.


One tube was used as the control while the other received 0.1 pg/ml of PMA.

The Oxford Learner's Dictionary lists the scientific control as countable, but I've seen it being used a lot as an uncountable noun. Examples from the ACAD section of COCA include:

eSNPs associated with nondifferential (FDR. 0.5) genes were used as control.
... and HUVEC (human umbilical vein endothelial cell line) were used as control.

Is is another of those usage vs. accuracy issues? Or is uncountable plain incorrect here?

  • Isn't the concept of 'uncountable' about whether you can use a count like 'a' or 'five'? (it's not about 'the') "Come in, the water is warm." (meaning 'this water') and "No, I'd prefer water that is hot" (you're not using 'a' here) are using the non-count noun 'water' appropriately.
    – Mitch
    Dec 22, 2017 at 14:01
  • Anyway, 'control' is countable. Can you use it without 'a' or 'the'? I suppose, but that's idiomatic. Your examples sound really off to me, but if people use it a lot, then maybe that idiosyncratic usage has caught on.
    – Mitch
    Dec 22, 2017 at 14:03

1 Answer 1


This is not about the noun "control". This is about a construction which licenses dropping the article. I'm not sure exactly how to characterise it, but it consists of "as" followed by a singular noun, in the sense of "in the role of", or "functioning as".

Frequent examples from the GloWbE corpus:

  • as part

  • as head (of ... )

  • as chairman

  • as fact

  • as CEO

  • 1
    It's also possible that this kind of use has become normal in certain fields or subcultures.
    – Davo
    Dec 22, 2017 at 13:19
  • Wikipedia has the following short note on zero article extracted from Yule, George (1998). Explaining English Grammar. Oxford University Press. p. 333. ISBN 0-19-437172-7. "The zero article is also used in instructions and manuals. In such cases, the references in the text are all definite, and thus no distinction between definite and indefinite has to be made. Grasp drumstick. Place knife between thigh and body; cut through skin to joint. Separate thigh and drumstick at joint."
    – Phil Sweet
    Dec 23, 2017 at 0:07
  • @PhilSweet: that's true (I regard what is described as a variety of "Headlinese"), but I believe that this is a different case.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 26, 2017 at 17:01

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