I was looking at an Android app, there are two buttons with these names: "Choose Suspect" and "Send Crime Report." After I thought about it, there are bunch of places where 'a/an' are omitted and they look just fine.

So, when is it safe to omit a/an? What's the mental model?

I checked another question with similar title - "When do you omit a, an or the?" - which deals with omitting articles after 'of.'

  • 6
    Forms and computer messages employ a highly elliptical syntax comparable to headlinese to save space. Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 23:40
  • You actually can’t: that’s not real English.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 0:35

1 Answer 1


You certainly can omit the article in real English. As a native speaker I'm not sure what is the underlying principle, though.

Examples: "Varnish is applied to wood to render its surface water-resistant and to make it more attractive". "Glue can be used to nake the joints stronger, provided you do not ever want to dismantle the bed after assembly". "Paper is a widely recycled material, plastic wrap is not". In that last example "A paper" would be plain wrong and "the paper" would refer to a particular paper item, not paper in general.

Added later: I think it may be to do with the noun representing a class of thing, rather than an indefinite instance of that class of thing. Sorry, that may be IT terminology rather than grammar terminology.

  • I like the concept of 'class'. Who cares if it's 'a paper' or 'papers' when there's something more important: action(or function..or method..). BTW, in my native language, people don't usually distinguish between 'a paper' and 'papers', it's almost always just 'paper.' The distinction is made only when it's really necessary like: "I need two egg." (still no s... 'two' is sufficient.)
    – Vincent
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 3:03

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