I am trying to build a sentence that has many single words like this:

It is not a product, a service, a desktop application, a machine, or an application but it is an architecture.

is that way or using a correct? or I should use just one a and one an like this:

It is not a product, service, desktop application, machine, or an application..


I know that the sentence could be rewritten using neither and nor, but that is not my question. My question is about using many a/an or just one of them is enough.

  • FYI - Marco. On ELL, the code markup (the tick) is frowned upon. I tried to use it a few times when I started out, but was disabused of that idea quickly. I now reserve it for instances when monospaced fonts are absolutely necessary. (e.g. ell.stackexchange.com/questions/48166/… ) I didn't edit your question, because I don't care much, but many people seem to.
    – Adam
    Jan 29, 2015 at 21:20
  • @Adam please edit my question, i don't know these roles Jan 29, 2015 at 21:22
  • Someone else already took care of it :-)
    – Adam
    Jan 29, 2015 at 21:22
  • 1
    Everything about your sentence is emphatic. The repetition of lots of nouns, the use of but, the delay in revealing what it is, and the repetition of it is an the final clause. For this reason, it would be much better to repeat the use of a/n in your example. If adds style and emphasis Jan 30, 2015 at 11:01

4 Answers 4


You really only need a single article, and that article matches the first item in your list:

It is not a product, service, desktop application, machine, or application...

While it is true that you wouldn't say "a application" (since it starts with a vowel), by having declared the first item in the list as indefinite, the presumption of indefiniteness (a vs. the) is implied on all subsequent items in the list.

If your list were ordered differently, you'd write:

It is not an application, product, service, desktop application, or machine ...

In either case, the repetition of the article on each item is superfluous, and may safely be omitted

Note, if you mix classes of nouns - definite, indefinite, and mass quantities, you need to mark at least one of each class. For example:

Feel free to use a phone, fax, or the Internet to reach me.

It would be any old phone or fax, but since there is only one Internet, it needs the definite article.

N.B. Your sentence would read best if you say "It is not a product, service, desktop application, machine, or application, but rather an architecture." (or better yet, framework!) But saying "rather" you signal the reader to the fact that you are switching to what the thing is.

  • 1
    Correctly - as I stated in the post, once you have identified the list members as being indefinite, you don't need to mark any more of them at all. Jan 29, 2015 at 21:31
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    @AffableGeek Oh now i got u, so it doesn't matter if it is a or an when u have many single words. I just need to put a or an according to the first single word, then just using single words without any a or an Jan 29, 2015 at 21:33
  • 1
    Exactly! Just make sure you mark the first noun correctly - a product or an application. Jan 29, 2015 at 21:33
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    That's such an odd construction :) I'm trying to find an example of mixing both countable and uncountable nouns. I'd probably say what you've written there - but in speaking it, there would be an emphasis on "or even a car!" Absent that emphasis, however, I suspect that you could get away without the article Jan 29, 2015 at 21:42
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    So what you've established, and I think this is right, is that an indefinite article and an uncountable mass are different classes. Come to think of it, you'd say: "you can use a phone, fax, device, or the Internet." If you were mixing definite and indefinite items in a list. Jan 29, 2015 at 22:36

I believe that your question was more around whether or not to repeat the "a/an" in the list of words.

You can be grammatically correct in either usage, but when an item in your list is potentially countable (can be a unspecific or specific amount), then your meaning can become different.

For example, take this sentence:

I had an egg, watermelon, and milk for breakfast.

It makes sense here to not specify the article in front of "milk" and "watermelon" because I had an indeterminate amount. However, it would be very strange to say I had a watermelon, because I did not eat an entire watermelon. It would also be very strange to say I had a milk, because milk is not a single item.

However, if we take this example sentence:

I had an egg, an apple, and an orange for breakfast.

This makes sense to enumerate my amount of egg and apple. I had a single one of each, not some indeterminate amount. If I leave out the article, the meaning of my sentence changes to say that I had just some amount of egg or some amount of apple.

  • If the first one in the list can only be a count noun, you cannot "leave out" the article: *'I had apple, bacon, and orange juice for breakfast.'
    – user6951
    Jan 30, 2015 at 1:17
  • Would it be acceptable/necessary to say a watermelon, if I did eat an entire watermelon?
    – Masked Man
    Jan 30, 2015 at 6:01
  • It would definitely be acceptable if you did indeed eat an entire watermelon, yes. Feb 6, 2015 at 19:03

Either way. It is a matter of style.

But, first, it is hard to guess what you mean by using architecture as a count noun.

Second, in the second sentence, you do not need an before application; the one a at the beginning applies to all the words, including application.

  • 3
    Architecture is a computer science/informatics term which is a countable noun. It is odd to the layman's ear, but his usage is correct in that context.
    – Adam
    Jan 29, 2015 at 21:22

To answer your question, no you dont need to use that many a / an s. one is perfectly fine used like this:

It is not a product, service, desktop application, machine, or an application..

Hope this answers your question (sorry for the previous confusion).

  • Sorry what are you talking about? I do know when to use a and when to use an. That is not my question buddy Jan 29, 2015 at 21:18
  • then what is your quetion Jan 29, 2015 at 21:19
  • wait i get it im fixing my answer now Jan 29, 2015 at 21:19
  • my question is about repeat the a/an or using one a and one an is enough Jan 29, 2015 at 21:19
  • I fixed the answer Jan 29, 2015 at 21:26

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