Source: Access 2010 Programmer's Reference

In the early days of Basic and other procedural languages, lines were numbered, not named. For example, your code might have a line GOTO 1100.

I asked a native English speaker and he said that grammatically the sentences sounded absolutely fine to him. But, I still have qualms about the grammar. GOTO 1100 is basically something like a command (grammatically, a noun here), but what is the word line? To me, it sounds like it's a noun used as an adjective. So, wouldn't THE line GOTO 1100 be the only grammatically correct way to have it written? I just don't understand why it is A line GOTO 1100.

I'm really confused about how I should properly understand that.

  • In BASIC programming, GOTO *linenumber* is common. (Ouch! What kind of programming we had back then!) So, it's fine imo because GOTO 1100 is not a specific instruction. Any piece of BASIC code could have line 1100. Feb 18, 2015 at 11:15

1 Answer 1


The indefinite article is fine here, although the definite article wouldn't necessarily be wrong. Personally, I prefer the indifinite article.

Let's reword the sentence so it's talking about something other than a GOTO line in a program:

Your paper might have a line with a spelling error.

The play might have a line with a stage direction, such as GRIMACING, or WHILE EXITING LEFT.

A newspaper column might have a line that is comprised of a single word.

The magazine might have a headline printed in red ink.

I think replacing "a line" with "the line" would make those four sentences sound clunky, particularly because they are preceded by "might have".

We could use "the" if we were talking about something that we did have, not something hypothetical that we might have:

Your paper had a lot of problems. There were several misconjugated verbs, and then there was the spelling error on page 3.

In the context of your book:

For example, your code might have a line GOTO 1100.

the word "a" helps the reader not get caught up in particulars. It's a line of code – any line of code. It's a terse way to say something along the lines of:

For example, your code might have a line reading, "GOTO 1100", or, "GOTO 10".

As opposed to something more specific that would allow for the definite article:

We found the bug near the end of that loop, on the line that read GOTO 1100.

Even then, though, the indefinite article would still work:

We found the bug near the end of that loop, on a line that read GOTO 1100.

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