Avoid including words that are clear from a/the file type or otherwise obvious.

Not recommended:


(The above sentence, as I understand, could be rewritten as "Avoid including words that are clear from the type of a/the file or otherwise obvious.")

This is an excerpt from my manual about naming files. Which article should I use, a or the? I know that if I talk about a specific file, I should use the, but it doesn't directly answer the question itself.

  • (In case speed is of the essence) Both are suitable. I prefer 'a' slightly, because it covers both well. 'the' sounds a bit more informal. Also, as a side note, note that "it answers" is the same as "it does answer", and the opposite of "it doesn't answer" :) Dec 28, 2020 at 6:51
  • @JustinStafford Yes, I should have written "directly answer" without "s", typo :) Speed is not really the essence, the essence is to understand how these things work, to don't ask something very similar later :) I see that your opinion about a/the here is somewhat different from the JavaLatte's answer...
    – user90726
    Dec 28, 2020 at 8:57
  • 3
    Yeah I think he maybe has me convinced; if the question is "What are some good guidelines to naming computer files of different types?" then sometimes I would prefer "a", I think. Maybe not. Nah, he's right. Dec 28, 2020 at 12:20
  • The manual literally says " a/the"? Dec 29, 2020 at 3:28
  • @Acccumulation No, it is an indication of my doubt.
    – user90726
    Dec 29, 2020 at 6:31

3 Answers 3


When talking about a specific thing, we use the definite article the. In this sentence, we are talking about the specific type of the specific file that we are naming, even if we are explaining a guideline that applies to the naming of any file.

The sentence should therefore be:

Avoid including words that are clear from the file type or otherwise obvious.

  • Thanks a lot. I know the question is answered, but maybe you could answer whether I should use "a" or "the" in the following sentence: "The order in which the files are listed in the directory". It is a heading of one of the sections of the same document. Is it correct to use "the" in both cases? I ask it here because it was "The order in which the files are listed in *a* directory", but I changed the second article to "the" according to how you described the logic behind of such cases.
    – user90726
    Dec 29, 2020 at 9:28
  • 1
    Ask yourself the question "which file type am I talking about?", to which the answer is "the type of the file that I am naming". Now ask yourself the question "which directory am I talking about?". I think that the answer should be any directory, so you use an indefinite article.
    – JavaLatte
    Dec 29, 2020 at 12:33

There is exactly one property called type assigned to each file. This property is unique and unambiguous. When you say the type of a/the file, it's perfectly clear what attribute you refer to.

Even if you don't know what file you are talking about (a file, any file), you still know it's a file, and, therefore, it has the type property.


The format of a/the file

The extension of a/the file

The size of a/the file

The contents of a/the file

Here are a few examples where the context doesn't define any particular file.

Windows uses file extensions to determine the type of a file.

Some systems keep track of the type of a file, while others leave it to the user.

You can determine the type of a file using the file command.


If you say "words that are clear from a file type", then technically all words that are clear from any file type are included. If you say "words that are clear from the file type", then only words that are clear from the type of the file being discussed are included.

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