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Is this sentence grammatically correct?

"The current flowing through the transistor positioned at VCC5 is smaller than at VCC3."

The meaning should be:

"The current flowing through the transistor positioned at VCC5 is smaller than the current flowing through the transistor positioned at VCC3."

  • I would use "The current flowing through the transistor positioned at VCC5 is smaller than that at VCC3." – user178049 Jan 9 at 7:34
  • I'm amazed that I'm the only person who has a problem with the use of smaller when it comes to current. As far as I know, current does not have a size, so it is neither small nor large. (Unless you follow it by amount of.) You have low or high currents. Similarly, the words less and more could be used. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jan 9 at 15:49
  • @JasonBassford Neither do currents have height, so why does "low" or "high" work? – Tashus Jan 9 at 15:59
  • @Tashus Here, low and high have nothing to do with height. They have to do with low and high numerical values. (I think. It's possible there's a better reason behind it from the physics.). Yes, you could say the same thing about small and large numbers. But that's not how our use of the language as it relates to electricity evolved. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jan 9 at 16:02
  • @JasonBassford Shall we move to chat? – Tashus Jan 9 at 16:03
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My answer here incorporates domain knowledge of electrical circuits in addition to English grammar. I would recommend some revision to your sentence if you want a substantial ellipsis. I have provided an example of such a revision at the bottom of the answer.

I will also point out (per Jason's suggestion) that it is not quite accurate to compare currents using "smaller" or "larger". Similarly one would not compare the volume on a television using "smaller" or larger". Technically, one should compare currents using "greater" or "lesser". This issue is further compounded by the fact that electric currents can be both positive and negative. However, I understand "the current is smaller" to mean "the magnitude of the current is smaller".


I find this sentence hard to reduce via ellipsis while maintaining the kind of precision that is useful in engineering descriptions. I will start with the complete description:

The current flowing through the transistor positioned at VCC5 is smaller than the current flowing through the transistor positioned at VCC3.

Two currents are being compared, and a current should be described using the preposition "through" and not with the preposition "at". Therefore, "smaller than at VCC3" is not appropriate for the technical context. A good description of the current should keep the preposition "through". Let's start by omitting the mention of the second current:

The current flowing through the transistor positioned at VCC5 is smaller than that through the transistor positioned at VCC3.

There are two different currents, so "smaller than that through" is better than "smaller than through". The pronoun "that" specifies that the sentence is comparing two objects rather than one object in two circumstances (e.g. "The sun is brighter in the kitchen than in the living room".)

There is a similar situation in trying to omit "the transistor positioned". Because the current is flowing through something at VCC3 and not through VCC3 itself, "through that at VCC3" would be better than "through VCC3".

Unfortunately, combining both of these ellipses produces something very unclear:

...is smaller than that through that at VCC3.

Because of the combination of these two factors, the description "the transistor positioned at VCC5" is problematic. I think the best you can do while adhering to conventions of circuit descriptions is:

The current flowing through the transistor positioned at VCC5 is smaller than that through the transistor positioned at VCC3.


Would it be possible to refer to the transistors by names, such as Q1 and Q2? This would allow a much simpler ellipsis that is still correct within the conventions of descriptions of electrical circuits:

The current flowing through transistor Q1 positioned at VCC5 is smaller than that through Q2 at VCC3.

  • As per the other comment thread, if your examples are going to be correct, you should make them read the magnitude of the current or the amount of the current if you are going to use the word smaller. Otherwise, the current is lower. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jan 9 at 15:52
  • @JasonBassford If we are being completely accurate, we cannot even refer to a current without a reference polarity indicating the direction of the flow of positive charge in positive current. – Tashus Jan 9 at 15:55
  • @JasonBassford I agree that "the amount of current is smaller" or "the magnitude of the current is smaller" are more correct than "the current is smaller". However, whenever someone says "the current is smaller" it is an ellipsis of "the magnitude of the current is smaller". I will make a note of this issue in my answer. – Tashus Jan 9 at 15:57
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It's correct and idiomatic.

There is a third option, which is to use "that" as a pronoun:

The current at V5 is smaller than that at V3.

This structure is sometimes useful if you think the sentence would be ambiguous. But in this case (since you use "at VCC3") there is no problem.

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    It is neither correct nor idiomatic as far as I know. Current does not have a size, so it is neither small nor large. (Unless you follow it by amount of.) You have low or high currents. Similarly, the words less and more could be used. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jan 9 at 15:45
  • @JasonBassford I agree with you from a linguistic perspective, but in the context of electrical circuits "this current is smaller than that current" will be reasonably understood as "the magnitude of this current is smaller than that current." – Tashus Jan 9 at 15:49
  • @Tashus It's also: "Danger! High voltage." Not large voltage. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jan 9 at 15:50

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