I have the following sentence:

This section of a program starts with keyword "protected".

Should I use any articles before keyword?

  • I downvoted this question, because I don't think there is sufficient context to provide a definitive answer. If you elaborate, and explain the situation in more detail, I'll happily remove that downvote. It's hard to know if you should include an article if we are not completely sure what you are trying to say.
    – J.R.
    Sep 9, 2013 at 19:21
  • 1
    @J.R. the problem, reflected in your and other comments in other answers, is that the OP is asking a programming language question, although he didn't say so. (I am a programmer :) So in this specific case, he should put an article, whether indefinite or definite depends on the context. Here it's clear that he should say "starts with the keyword 'protected'." This is because a keyword is a definite single reserved word in the programming language. (Almost everyone has heard of the infamous "GoTo" statement. Goto is a reserved word, as is the keyword (aka reserved word) "protected". Sep 11, 2013 at 23:30
  • If one writes "program starts with keyword 'protected'" then that's just bad Engrish, er. Engfish... BTW, I'd bump the OP back up a vote. Sep 11, 2013 at 23:31
  • Although you didn't ask about it, the program is probably more appropriate than a program. Both are okay, and we can't tell for sure which is better without additional context, but I think that contexts where a program is better are probably relatively rare.
    – user230
    Sep 12, 2013 at 7:08

3 Answers 3


I'd recommend that if you're referring to a specific keyword, use the, like this:

This section of a program starts with the static keyword.

If you're referring to a class of related keywords, use a:

This section of a program starts with a statement keyword.


You will find that the article is often left out in technical explanations, recipes, and the like. This is a particular style. In technical explanations, it's considered informal (and I neither use nor recommend it); you won't find the style in official documentation from Microsoft or IBM. So, in your example, I would follow Aaron's advice.

In recipes, however, you will find that the style is widely applied. Here's an example: http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/banana-bread/51427396-6764-4b0a-a73a-78c683c703d2


You should use "the", as in the keyword 'X'. When specifying a specific example of something (in this case a keyword) you need the article "the". Other examples of this are the letter "A" or the word "cheese".

  • I'm not convinced you "need" the article the. Counterexamples include: (1) 'Cookie' starts with 'C'; (2) Gimme an H! (H!); (3) Words ending in X. I could say "Iraq ends with Q" or "Iraq ends with a Q" or "Iraq ends with the letter Q" - none of those are more "right" than the others. Similarly, in the O.P.'s example: This section starts with keyword 'X', or, This section starts with a keyword: 'X', or This section starts with the keyword 'X'. All of those are valid (which is why I clamored for more context).
    – J.R.
    Sep 10, 2013 at 0:39
  • I suppose my examples weren't very well thought out, but what I meant was exactly what I said: you need the article the when specifying a specific example. I wasn't saying you need a the always in front of any letter. I was saying that you can't write "Iraq ends with letter Q". Sep 10, 2013 at 0:52
  • RE: you need the article 'the' when specifying a specific example: Yes, that's the general rule of thumb we all get taught in grade school, but I don't see how it answers the O.P.'s question. I gave three valid wordings, one with the definite article, one with the indefinite article, and one with the Ø article. And it's not always as cut-and-dried as the rule of thumb might lead us to believe. Consider the remark: "We moved into a new house last month." I'm talking about a specific house, but the indefinite article works nonetheless.
    – J.R.
    Sep 10, 2013 at 1:15
  • I'm not sure why you're trying to argue with me, as I agree with everything you said. And apparently it does answer the O.P.'s question, as evidenced by the most upvoted and accepted answer (which was more clearly worded and better than my own). Sep 10, 2013 at 6:28
  • I'm not really trying to argue with you, I'm just trying to make a clarification for anyone who comes by and reads your answer. Someone could read your answer, and think, "Oh, I need to use the – Aaron said so." I just wanted to point out, "Not so fast; there are plenty of contexts where you can write it another way and still be correct." If you're agreeing with me, then my comments must have some merit as a means of clarifying your original answer.
    – J.R.
    Sep 10, 2013 at 9:15

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