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Disclaimer: English is not my native language.

A sentence like the following might appear in an instruction manual for a device:

Press the "Start" and "Stop" keys at the same time.

I am unsure what type of word "Start" and "Stop" are (I'm guessing adjectives), so I'm a bit confused about the proper use of "the" in this context. A colleague of mine insists that "the" should appear either before both words or not at all, while I'm convinced that the sentence is fine as is.

Is there perhaps a rule or example showing the correct grammar for cases like this?

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    Pretty sure this is a duplicate, but not always easy to search.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 9:33
  • The Start key = the key labelled 'Start', or the key with the 'start' function. Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 14:07

2 Answers 2

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Your sentence is correct and natural as written, and your colleague is wrong.

Not only is there no requirement to put "the" before each noun, it's bad style to do so unless absolutely necessary. It's considered poor style in English to repeat anything unnecessarily, and since we have elision rules that allow us to leave out repeated "the", we should do so.

The underlying sentence is:

[Press the "Start" key] and [press the "Stop" key] at the same time.

We can infer the the second "press" and "the" from the first ones, so they can be elided. Also, the first "key" can be combined with the second one to make "keys". This results in your original example sentence, which is about as good as it can get.

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The definitive article belongs to the noun, not the adjectives.

The keys. You need to press the KEYS.

As in, press the [Stop, Start, Home, PageUP, and F9] KEYS at the same time.

Alternatively, if anyone wishes to be boring and pedantic, one could say:

"Press the Stop KEY and the Start KEy at the same time and see what happens."

Your friend has a point, but it's complicated, informal, with colloquial overtones, and completely unnecessary.

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  • In what way does OP's friend "have a point"? I certainly don't recognize "with colloquial overtones" in this context. Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 12:01

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