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One native speaker said that it is a mistake to use the indefinite article in the phrase "You can cancel a subscription anytime". I want to ask native speakers if it's true, and if yes — what rule states this?

She said:

  1. "You can cancel subscription anytime" — not a mistake, but could be better
  2. "You can cancel a subscription anytime" — incorrect!
  3. "You can cancel the subscription anytime" — this one is ok
  4. "You can cancel your subscription anytime" — ok as well
  5. "Subscription can be canceled at any time" — the best option

So, my questions are why #1 is correct (zero article?) and why #2 was considered as a wrong variant.

  • I would advise you not to trust this particular "native speaker" in the future (when it comes to language instruction). These assertions are not correct. – TypeIA Nov 11 '19 at 20:38
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It is not a mistake to say "a subscription" but it is not normally what you mean.

The first example looks wrong to me. The word "subscription" should be used a countable noun, and so you need some article or determiner.

The second is correct. If a person had multiple subscriptions and the meaning was "you can cancel one of them". However this is unlikely. Normally you would only have a single subscription, but if you had many, you could say "You can cancel [your] subscriptions at any time."

The third and fourth are correct.

The fifth is odd, again you seem to be treating "subscription" as an abstract non-count noun. It would be possible to say "Subscriptions can be cancelled..." but there is no real benefit in using the passive here.

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  • Thanks for the answer, James! Any idea why she said that #2 is incorrect? – Slavik Bubnov Nov 11 '19 at 18:37
  • Because it is not normally what you would mean or say. You normally mean to say "your subscription" or "the subscription". So "You can cancel a subscription" would be rather odd. – James K Nov 11 '19 at 18:43
  • Ok, but why she said that #1 is correct? – Slavik Bubnov Nov 11 '19 at 18:45
  • @JamesK We can usually leave out articles in headlines, so doesn't it apply to form fields, buttons and brief messages produced by a program? – Karolini Nov 11 '19 at 18:46
  • no idea, why don't you ask her. Did you miss out a plural? – James K Nov 11 '19 at 18:46

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