If I want to say that the content of a file is not right, should I say:

The file has a wrong format


The file has the wrong format

I am not referring to file extensions. I am referring to the content. For example, if an HTML file is missing a ‘>’.

  • 1
    Why would you think we were talking about a filename? What does the file’s name have to do with its contents? Nothing. That would confuse data with metadata.
    – tchrist
    Nov 5, 2012 at 21:09
  • I didn't think that. My last sentence was always there. Thanks for your answer!
    – IvanRF
    Nov 5, 2012 at 21:51
  • I think if the format is malformed, with random errors, it's a wrong format. If you used a well-formed XML while JSON was expected, it's the wrong format.
    – SF.
    Nov 6, 2012 at 0:22

4 Answers 4


If it is mis- or malformatted, then its format is wrong, or it is in the wrong format. It is not in *a wrong format.


If the file contains the expected type of content (HTML markup in a .HTM file, Comma-separated values in a .CSV file, etc.) then it is considered to be in the right format. If, however, such a file contains lines that do not meet the standard (missing HTML tags, unclosed quotes, etc.) then I would say that it contains invalid formatting.

  1. Is there more than one format allowed, but only formats are allowed in certain contexts? Then it's "a" wrong format.
  2. Is there one format to rule them all? Then there is one not-correct format (everything else), and this ursurper which has befouled our fair parser is not the one true correct format. Kill it.

The file doesn't own anything - this precludes the use of "has a" or "has the".

The more correct term would be "Is the wrong format".

I'm inclined to agree with Hellion - insofar as if an HTML file is expected, and there is a missing angled bracket (or other similar error) - I'd report that the input format was okay (HTML), but that it contained malformed tags or that it resulted in parsing errors.

If on the other-hand, a (semantically correct) png file was passed to an HTML parser, I'd say that the input was the wrong format.

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