I need to use this word with the following meaning:

the way in which data is stored or held to be worked on by a computer

This particular dictionary doesn't say anything about whether this word is countable or not. The given example though contains an indefinite article:

The images are stored in a digital format within the database.

So, it is supposed to be a countable noun. But when I reviewed some other examples I've discovered that putting an indefinite article along with the noun is not always the case:

However, neither the raw nor the processed data were provided in digital format.

No data were reported in digital format.

Could you please clarify the cases for me?

  • 1
    What is your sentence that you're confused about? (What's the context for your use of format?) Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 17:14
  • In my case it is the sentence: > To be able to grab data from sources and store it in the special TSDB format... I would go with "the" here because it implies the very known format (everybody should know it). There's a rule that states that a definite article should be used with an initialism if the one is the spelled out term. But again, I've found out an opposite example where an indefinite article resides: > The trial version allows you to save the image in a special TPI format. Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 17:31
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    The use of an adjective in front of a noun often changes it from something uncountable to something countable. Also, both the definite and indefinite article can be used with something countable—although only the definite article can (in some constructions) be used with something that isn't countable. In both of your special [adjective] format sentences, the noun is countable—even though in the first sentence it seems to have a count of one. Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 17:48
  • @Jason Bassford 'although only the definite article can... be used with something that isn't countable.' This has been discussed before; it's not true. 'A good education is the right of every American child' uses non-count 'education' (you can't say 'three good educations ...'). / 'He spoke with a feeling I never thought him capable of.' but ** 'He spoke with 2 / 17 / several / many feelings I never thought him capable of.' //// However, here I'd say that 'in a digital format' must indicate that there are other possible formats. Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 19:51
  • @EdwinAshworth I received a good education in the UK, a poor education in the US, and a good education in Switzerland. Those educations most certainly are countable. (I received two good educations and one bad one.) Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 16:14

1 Answer 1


You can use all three versions, as you choose: store it in TSDB format, store it in a TSDB format, or store it in the special TSDB format. The subtle differences:

  • in TSDB format: common geek speak.

  • in a TSDB format: this suggests you are talking to a non-specialist.

  • in the special TSDB format: this suggests that earlier in your communication with the person, you explained something about the TSDB format, and now you are referring back to that.

I would choose among these based on how well versed the other person is with this format.

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