The sentence below seems missing something but as a non-native speaker it is hard for me to tell what is wrong with it.

Finally, we selected a single representative RPG from each cluster, according to universality and deviance, to serve as marker gene.

Should "as marker gene" be "as the marker gene", "as a marker gene", or "as marker genes"?

Personally I want to express "marker gene" as a general concept so "as the marker gene" does not fit. "as marker gene" sounds most natural to me but it violates the grammatical rule of article + countable noun. "as marker genes" sounds also OK but only a single RPG was selected so "genes" seems wired. Which one is be better?

  • Nope, to serve as a gene marker. Except for newspaper-type titles, English requires a/or plural s/es OR a the. [Example: We chose a boy to be the goalkeeper.] "as" has nothing to do with it here.
    – Lambie
    Oct 17, 2023 at 15:14
  • @Lambie, I see nothing wrong with a boy being chosen to be goalkeeper, born to be King, or elected Prime Minister. Oct 17, 2023 at 19:21
  • @MichaelHarvey Yes, but born to be a king is not the same.
    – Lambie
    Oct 17, 2023 at 21:42

1 Answer 1


It doesn't need an article because it is a unique title for something within the specific context. It seems that the article would be optional. It could even be correct with the indefinite article.

A comparable noun might be 'manager'. It is a countable noun, and can be a person's title - there are many people working as managers, and an organisation may have many managers within its structure. An individual could rightly say "I act as manager for this department"; however, it would be just as correct to say they are "the manager".

  • to serve as a marker gene. He acts as a manager for this department.
    – Lambie
    Oct 17, 2023 at 15:21
  • 1
    @Lambie those would only be correct if there were the possibility for multiple managers/marker genes within the confines of the context. For example, in most card games someone acts as a dealer. Within the context of a single game, that person is the dealer.
    – Astralbee
    Oct 17, 2023 at 17:51
  • Here, an a is definitely needed. It is not a title. A single representative to serve as a gene marker. is standard.
    – Lambie
    Oct 17, 2023 at 17:53
  • @Lambie To be clear, are you saying the original quote is ungrammatical? And if so, is that because it feels ungrammatical, or because of a rule about articles?
    – gotube
    Oct 17, 2023 at 23:15
  • @Lambie sadly you are incorrect. It is not "standard". Example - you're preparing to play a game of Association Football. Which of these sounds most idiomatic to you: "You be goalkeeper", or "you be a goalkeeper"?
    – Astralbee
    Oct 18, 2023 at 5:59

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