So, my language intuition is at a bit of an impasse. I'm describing the contents of a study module and I've arrived at the following sentence: "The qualification consists of...and one optional unit selected out of the units Inspection, Archaeology, or Science."

I'm having trouble deciding whether the definite article is necessary here. "out of units X1, X2, and X3" sounds equally correct. For what it's worth none of these units have been previously mentioned in the text; still, I'm left thinking if the fact that I'm defining the units of which I speak required the definite article or if I can use null article here?

  • Hello, Jarno. Omitting the article sounds too clipped here, and I'd prefer 'from' to 'out of'. // It's interesting that you choose 'null article' rather than 'zero article' here. Are you aware of the school of thought that considers them very different (though identical in form)? An article by Peter Master addresses this. – Edwin Ashworth May 11 '18 at 8:40
  • Thanks, your reply about addresses my concerns. There's something in the clipped version that makes it sound plausible to my ear, but it's probably less preferable anyways. It just so happens, I wasn't actually aware of the terminological conflict at the moment of posting this. However, just afterwards I happened upon the article and thought that I should change the topic accordingly. I did ultimately decide against it though, since it had been live for a while and I figured people might've already seen the unedited title and thus an edit would only provoke unnecessary confusion. – Jarno Porkka May 11 '18 at 9:38

I would intuitively leave in the definite article, though I can't really explain why. I think it is related to whether they are predictable, so if they were numbered you wouldn't need the article, but as they are labels that are not intrinsically linked to the concept of 'unit' it sounds better with the article.

However, you could leave it out altogether and just say one optional unit selected from Inspection, Archaeology, or Science -- you just mentioned that they are 'units' already.

  • Your second suggestion leaves open the possibility that 'Inspection', 'Archaeology', and 'Science' contain rather than are units. – Edwin Ashworth May 11 '18 at 8:36
  • Yes, it depends on context, really. I think in that situation it should be obvious enough that it's a list of units. At least to the target audience of university students. – Oliver Mason May 11 '18 at 9:01
  • Since this is going into an official document, I'm compelled to choose the route of least possible ambiguity (just to avoid people claiming that the instructions were unclear, that the list leaves open the possibility, or whatever). Thus I think I ought to stick with the former even if it's rather redundant. Thank you for your insights. – Jarno Porkka May 11 '18 at 9:44

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