In a paper about Photo-Electrically Controlled Lighting Systems by Francis Rubinstein et. al. (a native English speaker as far as I know) I've come across some wording that seems incorrect to me. The word task is used multiple times in a context where at other times task surface is used.

Examples for the usage of task surface in 3 different places in the paper:

The ability of a photo-electrically controlled lighting system to maintain a constant total light level on a task surface by responding to changing day light levels (...)
The first constraint is particularly important because the control objective is expressed in terms of the illuminance at the task surface (or work plane).
(...) the control photo sensor is generally mounted in the ceiling rather than at the task surface, (...)

Examples fo the usage of task in 5 different places in the paper:

We describe the major components (...), and derive expressions for each algorithm that express the total illuminance at the task as a function of the control photo sensor signal.
We then use experimental data from scale models to demonstrate how the control algorithm and the photo sensor's geometry and location affect the ability of photo-electrically lighting systems to provide a specified illuminance level at the task.
Although placing the photo sensor at the task would be ideal from an operational standpoint (...)
For example, a ceiling-mounted photo sensor doesn't directly measure the illuminance at the task.
By expressing each algorithm mathematically, we can derive expressions for the total light level at the task as a function of the daylight component of the photosensor signal and daylight on the task for each algorithm.

I think task surface should be used instead of task in the examples above. At least that's how I understand it. Using the word task on its own in those cases sounds incorrect to me but I'm no native speaker. Is the usage of task on its own correct in the 5 examples above and if yes why? Can the word task on its own be used as a reference to a physical place?

It just seems odd to me when one speaks of a task having a light level or illuminance or placing a sensor at a task.

  • The use of the word "task" here seems to be a piece of cant or jargon. I can't understand the use of the word "task" in either section.
    – James K
    Nov 14, 2019 at 19:56
  • This is technical English. The task surface means: the surface on which the task is performed. And it's obviously written by a native speaker. At the task means: at the place of the object on which the task is being performed.
    – Lambie
    Nov 14, 2019 at 20:26

1 Answer 1


Nouns can be used attributatively. From that link:

In English grammar, an attributive noun is a noun that modifies another noun and functions as an adjective. Also known as a noun premodifier, a noun adjunct, and a converted adjective.

Task surface is the noun task being used in this way.

If you don't use task with another word like you would use an adjective, then it will no longer be attributive. So you can't do this:

I've cleaned my task surface, and now I'm going to put some things on my task.

In your second paragraph (source), I think there's an error in the text and the word surface was accidentally omitted.

  • I also first thought that using task on its own was an accidental error but it's not only used in one paragraph but in multiple paragraphs across the paper and also in a different paper by the same author team. So from your answer and the comments I take that using task on its own as a short term for task surface or task area would be incorrect in common English but considering the frequency with which task (on its own) is used and the fact that the authors are native English speakers I guess it's acceptable lingo in a scientific paper or the author just has a strange diction.
    – frido
    Nov 15, 2019 at 11:49

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