I use on occasion sans for without. It has the advantage to consist of the same number of letters (great for nice code formatting). Also, writing without is 75% longer and I don't like it.

Of course there's w/ as an abbreviation but partly I wish to use full words (albeit short ones) and partly, consider the below.

Oh, so clever: with/sans $$$
Plain stupid: with/w/o $$$

My fear's that people in general don't understand the context of sans and/or that they find my text unnatural, though.

Example from coding world.

public enum Equipment
  • 6
    Given that sans is not an English word, not every native speaker will understand it. Particularly since your surrounding text (as above) is likely to be littered with ungrammatical and non-idiomatic usages, which will increase the chances that people will simply give up rather than make the effort to understand what you might mean. It may just come across as inappropriately pretentious anyway. Jan 17, 2016 at 20:49
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    @Stephie: The concept of "an English word" is slippery (and subjective), but I bet if you asked 100 native Anglophones what sans meant, half of them wouldn't have a clue. And nearly all the rest would mention that it was a French word, while giving you the definition. Jan 17, 2016 at 20:56
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    @Stephie: Right and wrong are also subjective concepts in this context. I speak French reasonably fluently, and I use sans from time to time myself in English (always facetiously). But I certainly wouldn't use it in the context of code documentation where I don't even know who might be reading my text in years to come. I can just imagine all the new punk kids in the coding room sniggering about that pretentious old prat who wrote all those dorky comments in now-obsolete code they're having to rewrite. Jan 17, 2016 at 21:06
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    @KonradViltersten Oops. I didn't see your enum, sorry. Anyway, my suggestion was really to dig further into your requirements. I wouldn't presume to come up with an alternative solution to yours with so little knowledge of your problem domain. I prefer self-documenting code as well (now that storage is dirt cheap), and if you find that your enum is self-explanatory within the context of the domain then by all means use it. Personally, I'd use without from what I can see. A goal of having all enum values be the same length conflicts with the goal of self-documenting code to some extent...
    – BobRodes
    Jan 17, 2016 at 23:53
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    What's the use case for your enum? Those four members don't obviously form a coherent category. Jan 18, 2016 at 4:34

4 Answers 4


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED online), gives the Frequency Band of 5 for sans. Such words comprise 4% of the entries in OED.

This word belongs in Frequency Band 5. Band 5 contains words which occur between 1 and 10 times per million words in typical modern English usage. These tend to be restricted to literate vocabulary associated with educated discourse, although such words may still be familiar within the context of that discourse.

In addition, the OED labels sans as Archaic, including as part of its definition "chiefly with reminiscence of Shakespeare." It also says it is used in jocular nonce words.

The frequency band for without is Band 7:

Band 7 contains words which occur between 100 and 1000 times per million words in typical modern English usage. This includes the main semantic words which form the substance of ordinary, everyday speech and writing...

  • 1
    Oh, I just learn about frequency bands. That's a cool application of algorithmic scale. And the comparison between those two words is spot-on. Very well formulated answer (and it make it easier for me to pick which one to accept - I was torn before). Jan 17, 2016 at 23:23
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    "Jocular" is a good word for what I was trying to convey.
    – BobRodes
    Jan 17, 2016 at 23:56
  • I hear it more since I moved to Canada than I did in the US, for obvious reasons.
    – corsiKa
    Jan 18, 2016 at 20:43
  • @Konrad Be warned that use of 'sans' in a context which is neither archaic nor jocular is likely to be perceived as pretentious (in BrEng at least).
    – A E
    Jan 18, 2016 at 21:20

Sans is of course the French word for without. We use the word interchangeably with without, but there's a certain sense of insouciance about it that probably wouldn't seem appropriate in the context you appear to be describing. It wouldn't typically be used in entirely serious prose.

Here is a nice little explanation of usage in English, with some examples that do a good job of conveying what I'm trying to say.

  • 4
    Who uses the word interchangeablly with without?
    – GoDucks
    Jan 17, 2016 at 22:51
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    Perhaps "to mean the same thing as" is a better characterization than "interchangeably with".
    – BobRodes
    Jan 17, 2016 at 23:40
  • Sans is of course the French word for without "of course"? That's not immediately obvious to anyone. Also, it might be helpful to put "without" in quotes. Jan 18, 2016 at 22:03
  • @Azor-Ahai It's obvious to me, and I would think it's obvious to the OP. But feel free to disagree.
    – BobRodes
    Jan 18, 2016 at 23:41
  • Sorry, "anyone" wasn't the right word. I meant to say "everyone." Jan 19, 2016 at 3:25

sans is a perfectly fine English word with French "heritage". Technically you can absolutely use it instead of without.

My gut feeling is that sans is in a somewhat higher register than a more "everyday" without, and it may not be in the (active) vocabulary of every reader (you know your audience better than we do), but I see no compelling reason to abstain from it. Whether its use is particularly "clever" is certainly a matter of taste. If you enjoy the word / length / whatever, use it.

  • @bobrodes I can't decide which one to accept... Both replies are clear, correct, informative and spot-on... Jan 17, 2016 at 21:37
  • @KonradViltersten perhaps the examples in the article I linked will give some idea of when I might use it, for whatever it's worth.
    – BobRodes
    Jan 17, 2016 at 21:48
  • Why is this downvoted? It's a good reply... I even voted it up so there's at least two downs... People are weird... Jan 17, 2016 at 23:02
  • Nevermind, I think I know why... You got into a discussion with someone who felt that it was important to click you a lesson. As I said, people... Jan 17, 2016 at 23:04

My guess: Far more English speakers know immediately what "with", "without", and even "w/o" mean, than know what "avec" and "sans" mean.

This is because "with" and "without" are English words, whereas "avec" and "sans" are French words.

If you want to be sure that your code and comments (that are otherwise written in English) are understood, you should use "without" or "w/o", not "sans". (Unfortunately, "w/o" does not work in code.)

If you want your comments to line up, manually add space(s) to make them line up. (Many IDE pretty printers respect how you space your comments, even if they mess up how you space the rest of your code.)

  • I see you r point. I'll add a little example in my question to show what also it might be useful for. For some reason, when people hear programming they tend to interpret it as comments or documentation. I almost never write comments. It's a very bad habit hiding even more bad issues. At least in my experience. Jan 17, 2016 at 23:07

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