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From Core Java Volume I—Fundamentals, 9th Edition by Cay S. Horstmann (2012):

The Java compiler itself is highly skilled in guessing the various meanings of the period character as separator between packages, subpackages, classes, inner classes, and methods and variables.

Here is what the thing that they're talking about in the excerpt looks like:

package com.horstmann.corejava // an example of a Java package
Employee.getSalary() // an example of a method call in Java

I asked my American friend why there was no article in front of separator and his answer was, first of all, that the sentence sounded completely fine to him and that you could put a definite article there, but you don't need to. As to why that was the case, no explanation followed.

Later on, he added that this is more like saying what the role is, not what the thing itself is. Alright, that makes total sense, but is there some sort of rule of thumb that can help you determine whether to use an article or leave it out altogether (whether we're talking about a role or not a role)? Obviously, the author could have gone with the "article" possibility (I don't see anything wrong with that), but he evidently didn't choose to go that way. There must have been something that prompted him to forgo sticking in an article. So, I'm really curious as to what was going on in his head at that moment and what exactly prompted him to make the decision that he made.

If you have anything to say about this grammar problem, please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas.

  • Not really sure why, but it does work in some instances. Can you imagine Joan Collins as Queen of England? – Tetsujin May 17 '15 at 13:55
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    One reason is probably because it's been like that since Early English (i.e. Old English, before the time of the Elizabethan period). According to A Shakespearian Grammar: An Attempt to Illustrate Some of the Differences Between Elizabethan and Modern English, 3rd ed. (1870), "A and The are also sometimes omitted after as, like, and than in comparative sentences: [...] This is, however, common both in early and modern English. In such sentences the whole class is expressed, and therefore the article omitted." – Damkerng T. May 17 '15 at 14:13
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    @Tetsujin Your example is what CGEL calls a "bare role NP" . They work in certain functions, such as predicative complement (She became Queen of England), but not subject (*Queen of England punched me!) or object (*I punched Queen of England!). They also appear as complements of as, as in your example, but this is a bit exceptional, because as doesn't always take adjectives as complements (*Can you imagine Joan Collins as old?; see also CGEL p.637), so we need to treat as as a special case (CGEL p.263). – snailboat May 17 '15 at 14:15
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    I'm not sure about the OP's case. I think every example CGEL calls a "bare role NP" denotes a role, office, or position that a human can have. Does the description extend to examples like as separator? I've avoided answering questions on this topic since I'm not really sure I can describe as accurately. But the above is the information I've got so far, all from CGEL and its offspring A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. – snailboat May 17 '15 at 14:16
  • I think in the OP the context is important, probably there is a definable symbol as separator -- but I suspect it's predefined for Java -- and so it's not "a separator" but "the separator"; the period may also work as symbol to represent other aspects of the language, as an operator for concatenation for example. But it's talking about the role of the period as a symbol in general, not of a specific instance of the symbol. – pbhj Feb 16 at 13:30
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Here's the logic the way I see it.

See the sentence below:

Can you talk to the manager, or person acting as manager, about this?

The entire phrase "manager, or person acting as manager" are all talking about a single thing (something that is a manager or its equivalent). For example, this entire phrase could be the subject of a sentence.

The manager, or person acting as manager, is required to sign the visitor log.

So you only need one "the" in front of it, since there really is only one noun on a logical level. You can repeat the "the" for clarity if you like, but it's not required because the first "the" is still "in effect," so to speak.

It's similar to:

I wanted the blue book, blue notepad, and blue pen.

I wanted the blue book, notepad, and pen.

The first sentence is extra clear, though depending on the context the second sentence would usually mean the same.


Also, one other thing I can think of is that the writer of that sentence does not know if there will be one of or more than one of "packages, subpackages, classes, inner classes, and methods and variables." So ...

  • Saying "the separator between ..." would say that the period character could be the only character to separate these items.

  • Saying "a separator between ..." would say that the period character, in addition to other characters, could separate these items.

If there is a possibility that at times, you must use only period characters to separate these items, but at other times, you can use other characters, omitting the article lets the statement apply to the widest amount of cases.

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