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What should I do to expand my knowledge so that I don't get stuck with such amateur questions in the future? :) I am more inclined towards an articled option, 'cause I believe we can count delays, although delays are abstract in the sense that they're not physical objects... The context is: "Your message may arrive with a bit of (a) delay."

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  • Since the context appears to be the documentation of a computer interface of some sort, or something similar, I would recommend using language that is altogether less ambiguous as well as less folksy. How much is "a bit" of delay? Half a second? Two days? What you wrote is consistent with the following interpretation: "If you're very lucky, your message will arrive with a bit of a delay; if you are not very lucky, it will not arrive at all." On the other hand, "The delivery of your message may be delayed by a few minutes" does not suggest the message might not be received.
    – David K
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 14:16
  • @David "the following interpretation: ..." -- That's technically correct, but the more reasonable interpretation is "Your message will likely arrive on time but could arrive with a bit of a delay." Meaning, there's a normal timeframe and a delay would be additional.
    – wjandrea
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 19:44
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    @wjandrea Yes, I would read it the same way as you, but that is making assumptions about what a reasonable implementation would be. When documenting a system like this, the fewer assumptions are required, the better. In my view, that kind of thinking is more important than whether or not to write "delay" or "a delay".
    – David K
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 20:32

2 Answers 2

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This is a "six of one, half-a-dozen of the other" usage. My default is to include the article, but both versions are perfectly common...

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There's no significant difference between AmE and BrE, and I can't see any possibility of a difference in meaning. But obviously mine and OP's preferred version is in the ascendant here.

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  • @FumbleFingers I deleted two of your comments which belong on the question they're about, not this one. You can use a chat room if you want to give Marios feedback on that deleted question.
    – gotube
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 5:57
  • @MariosAthanasiou, I deleted several of your comments because they're about a different question. If you want to communicate with another user, please use English Language Learners Chat.
    – gotube
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 5:58
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In various kinds of processing, adding "a bit of delay" would entail making an existing step in the process take slightly longer than it otherwise would have, while adding "as bit of a delay" would involve adding a new step whose purpose is to defer later actions.

If one imagines a plane approaching an airport which has a plane on the runway awaiting takeoff, an arriving pilot who reduces airspeed would be adding "a bit of delay", while one who circled would be adding "a bit of a delay". Looking at the former pilot's trajectory, no identifiable part of it would be "the added delay", but the latter pilot's path would have a circle which, if omitted, would have allowed the pilot to arrive sooner.

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  • Speaking of processing, delay is also an audio effect, so you could imagine a musician saying something like "Add a bit of delay on the drum track".
    – wjandrea
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 19:50
  • @wjandrea: But he could ask the sound engineer to add a bit of echo to the track OR ...a bit of an echo... It's not obvious to me they can mean anything different - just different syntactic structures referring to "the same" effect from different perspectives. Another besides the "zero article" is some [delay, echo,...] Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 20:20
  • @FumbleFingers "Echo" is different. I would interpret "a bit of delay" as the effect and "a bit of a delay" meaning an offset relative to the other tracks (though I don't work in the industry).
    – wjandrea
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 20:25
  • @FumbleFingers: Often times, the term "delay" is used to describe an effect in which one delayed copy of a sound is mixed with a non-delayed original, and it's used as a mass noun with the quantity affecting the amplitude of the delayed signal, rather than the amount by which it is delayed, but I thought adding that to the answer would confuse the main point, which is that the countable and mass nouns have different shades of meaning. "Echo" and "reverb" are related but different effects. A -6dB echo with a 100ms time offset would superimpose a copy of the sound with 50% amplitude...
    – supercat
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 20:42
  • ...after 100ms, another copy with 25% amplitude after 200ms, another with 12.5% amplitude after 300ms, etc. Reverb would typically refer to the superposition of many copies of the signal with a variety of amplitudes and offsets, generally without any individual copy dominating.
    – supercat
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 20:43

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