Why there is

file not found

access denied

and so on everywhere, when it should be (as far as I know)

the file was not found

the access is denied

I wonder which is actually correct? Both?


5 Answers 5


These are status messages similar to traffic signs like No Parking, One Way etc.

Even many news headlines in newspaper are very short and are not full sentences like "Man shot dead", "Man shot at", "Gold up" etc.

Statuses, titles etc need not be full sentences.

  • Indeed. Each additional character (byte/bit or information in general) may result in more calculations and increase a processing time. Not to mention that such issues may gradually increase, for example, a message which is sent over network would require to transfer more information/data to each recipient/client and that would increase the latency and response time - processing time, or a compression/cipher algorithm implementation might utilize increased amount of resources while operating.
    – Artfaith
    Jun 2, 2022 at 3:22

I think the main reason terse language, such as this, is used for error messages is simple: people don't want to read horrendously long error messages.

Case in point:

The computer searched the file system, unfortunately however, the file was not found.


file not found.

It's simple and yet it conveys all of the necessary information.

To answer your question, the shortened messages would not be appropriate anywhere that formal language is used. However, "the access is denied" is incorrect. You would not use "the" to refer to access, in this case. To be formal, you would say something like "Access to the resource was denied."


"The access" is not a proper construct. "Your access" is fine, but I don't think it's necessary. I'd say "Access was denied" if you want to spell it out more than tradition.

"The file was not found" is grammatically proper.

But "File not found" and "Access denied" get your point across just as well


As a programmer, I suspect that the message is coming from an underlying error class. The application is merely reporting the name of the type of error that occurred; it's not trying to have an intelligent conversation with the user.

This answer applies to programming in general, but here is an example of a list of status codes in the HTTP protocol. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_HTTP_status_codes#4xx_Client_Error .

You will recognize some of them as messages you have received in your web browser at one time or another.

  • In addition to the resource dependence, some articles may be omitted in programming/tech to decrease operation count. For example, a calculation to whether output "a" or "the" might need additional processing and decrease the whole processing time.
    – Artfaith
    Jun 2, 2022 at 3:37

That probably comes from limited memory in the early days of computing, where typing out a proper sentence would take up more memory and might cause problems. It would have made things simpler to use an improper sentence that still got it's point across. These days though it would hardly make any difference.

  • Reminds me of the first computer I worked on, in the late 1960s, which produced messages like "LP OOP" (when the line-printer ran out of paper) and "WOT NXDO" (when a job was finished and it was ready to start the next one).
    – DavidR
    Jul 3, 2012 at 16:00
  • That seems pretty unlikely! More likely the reason is that users are notoriously bad readers. In fact messages like these have generally become less, not more, verbose compared to, like, the 90s.
    – Casey
    Aug 30, 2017 at 18:15
  • Some might say, a well-mannered and responsible programmer will always try to decrease the operation time and the resource requirements. Some shortened terms are still in current popular use like SIGTERM (Signal termination), EPERM (Operation [is] not permitted), or EINTR (Interrupted system call). Some are considered commonly unused like SIGSTKFLT (Stack fault on coprocessor) | Related: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signal_(IPC) mariadb.com/kb/en/operating-system-error-codes
    – Artfaith
    Jun 2, 2022 at 3:44

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