1

I came across this sentence in an article.

  1. There is a balance of proprietary and open sources in the market.

Should it be either of the following instead?

  1. There is a balance of proprietaries and open sources in the market.

  2. There is a balance of proprietary and open source software in the market.

6
  • #3 seems to change the meaning of the sentence , from talking about sources to talking about software. Is there context that implies they are talking about software as opposed to the source of software?
    – katatahito
    Jul 4, 2019 at 6:55
  • @katatahito Open-source software is a type of computer software in which source code is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner- wikipedia Jul 4, 2019 at 7:01
  • 1
    I am aware what "open-source software" means. However by adding "software" to #3 you change the basic meaning of the sentence from "There is a balance of sources" to "There is a balance of software". Those do not mean the same thing.
    – katatahito
    Jul 4, 2019 at 7:07
  • 2
    That is, unless "open sources" is being used as jargon/shorthand for "open source software[s]". In which case #3 would indeed be appropriate.
    – katatahito
    Jul 4, 2019 at 7:15
  • 2
    1 and 3 work, 2 doesn’t.
    – Xanne
    Jul 4, 2019 at 8:01

1 Answer 1

1

Strictly in terms of the syntax of the original sentence, there is a possible way of parsing it that would result in something nonsensical:

There is a balance of proprietary and open sources in the market.

That parsing would result in something that doesn't make sense because the adjective cannot stand on its own without a noun to modify.

So, in that sense, you are correct that it might appear odd—but only if somebody parsed it in that way, which is unusual.


Typically, it would be parsed in one of these ways:

  • There is a balance of proprietary sources and open sources in the market.
  • There is a balance of proprietary and open sources in the market.

Most people would have no problem assuming this interpretation. Everything being equal, we mentally adjust anything ambiguous between the understandable and the nonsensical in favour of the understandable.


But note that both of your rephrased versions also suffer from possible parsing issues:

  • There is a balance of proprietaries and open sources in the market.
  • There is a balance of proprietary and open source software in the market.

Further, the first version, even if it is parsed as you want, results in proprietaries sources, which is a phrase that doesn't make sense.

The addition of software in the last version does indeed make it far less likely to be incorrectly parsed, but it may also change the meaning of what's being communicated.


If you want a sentence that cannot be parsed incorrectly, even in the most unlikely of interpretations, then you need to rephrase it.

To avoid the possibility of incorrect parsing in any way at all, you would have to get very explicit:

In the market there is a balance of (1) proprietary sources and (2) open sources.

In the market the following are in balance: proprietary sources and open sources.

However, at a certain point you have to stop overanalyzing, and assume that most people will not have a problem with idiomatic phrasing.

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  • The two relevant terms are "proprietary software" and "open source software", with the latter often abbreviated to simply "open source". In my experience as a programmer the word "source" is not typically used together with "proprietary". So I think the OP's third option is fine as is; I read it as talking about the two types of software: "There is a balance of [proprietary] and [open source] software in the market." Perhaps it could be made even clearer by swapping the terms around: "...a balance of open source and proprietary software".
    – nnnnnn
    Aug 8, 2019 at 14:52
  • @nnnnnn I agree that people would not normally misinterpret the third sentence. Generally, even if something can be parsed in an odd way, we assume that's not what's meant, and parse it in the way that has it make sense. I was speaking to syntax, not common convention. It's theoretically possible to misunderstand it, but not likely. Aug 8, 2019 at 15:05

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