I often struggle in technical articles with whether I should conjugate the verb in incomplete sentences like:

Some options are available:

  • Answering: Result in opening all gates.
  • Ignoring: Switch lights off after two minutes.

In the first case it could be a shortcut for "This results in ...", but in the second case there are multiple possibilities: "To switch lights ...", "This switches lights ...", "You switch lights ...".

I wonder if such form relates to a well known use of the language (which has a name), and/or if some standard rule applies.

2 Answers 2


If add and ignore refer, for instance, to functions or user interface selections of a computer application, then I would lead the description with the exact verbatim name of the keyword or UI widget, and after a colon, continue with a 3rd person singular simple present verb form like adds or cancels

E.g. IGNORE : cancels all previous or pending ....

That is ideal for a list of commands/functions. Of course this would be adjusted for a sentence in a context of a paragraph. You would still write something like "IGNORE cancels all previous or pending..."

In my examples, the all caps lettering can, in technical documentation for computing, be rendered on a terminal font like Courier for command line apps, or other means of quotation or emphasis for other apps.

  • Thanks, I doesn't relate to computer. I adjusted the example to clarify, so you may want to update your answer. Sorry for that.
    – mins
    Jan 18, 2021 at 0:38

First off, the first bullet point contains some redundant wording. The following would be more concise:

Answering: Open all gates.

With bare infinitives ("open" and "switch"), your sentences are understandable. However, finite verbs generally provide more information than non-finite verbs, because they can indicate tense, person, etc.

There are multiple ways to make the verbs finite, including:

(A1) Answering: [[This]] opens all gates.
(A2) Ignoring: [[This]] switches lights off after two minutes.

(B1) Answering: [[You]] open all gates.
(B2) Ignoring: [[You]] switch lights off after two minutes.

(By the way, "To switch lights . . ." would not be a complete, well-formed sentence.)

In version A, you can omit the subject with little loss of meaning. In version B, there will be more ambiguity if you omit the subject. I'd therefore recommend version A, preferably with the subject, although you could omit the subject if you really want to reduce each sentence's length slightly.

To answer your last question, dropping the subject is often called "conversational deletion" or "left-edge deletion". You can find more information if you google those terms.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .