Technical English Course (part 2)

Oh, it has been a while since I wrote the first part. I know, I have this tendency to start something then sometimes suddenly lose interest in continuing or finishing it ^^;. But no, I refuse to be like that anymore! *for the sake of the PhD study I’ve started :p* That’s why I will continue to write on this topic until the end.

#3 Using appropriate articles

I have to admit, this is my biggest weakness in writing, and maybe also for other Indonesians, because… we don’t use articles/determiners, or I should say we can omit them in Indonesian language and therefore are rarely used. Whenever I write something, there must be at least one missing article/determiner, or I use the wrong one (between indefinite and definite).

“In 2005, doctoral thesis about human computation was completed. Four years later, first annual Workshop on Human Computation was held in Paris with participants representing wide range of disciplines. This diversity is important because finding appropriate and effective ways of enabling online human participation in computational process will require new algorithms and solutions to tough policy and ethical issues, as well as same understanding of users that we apply in other areas of HCI.  Today, field of human computation is being advanced by researchers from areas as diverse as artificial intelligence, business, cryptography, art, genetic algorithms, and HCI.”

— Human Computation: A Survey and Taxonomy of a Growing Field.   Quinn &  Bederson (2011)

In above text, the articles (the or a) are removed. Here is the clue, the nouns in bold are the ones that need articles. What do they have in common? They are singular countable nouns, which brings us to the first rule:

Rule #1: A singular countable noun always needs a determiner.

So make sure to check the nouns you write, if they are singular and countable don’t forget the articles. What about plural and uncountable nouns?

Rule #2: For plural and uncountable nouns, you have to decide whether you are referring to the thing/things in general (no article needed) or whether you are specifying a particular example or examples of it (use the).

Consider these sentences: “Water is our vital source to live.”, “The water he drinks was taken from the sink.”, “There are ducks in the pond, and the ducks are swimming around.” Now, for a singular countable noun, how to choose between the and a?

Rule #3: A = one of these thingsThe = the reader knows which one I am referring to.

The reader knows because:

  • I’ve just mentioned the thing
  • there is only one
  • the reader is expected to know that the thing is a part of something I’ve just mentioned
  • the reader/listener is expected to remember which one we were talking about in a previous conversation
  • I’m defining which one as part of the whole noun phrase (by using an adjective, relative clause, prepositional phrase etc).

Let’s see these examples to be more clear…

  • The sun is shining.” –> there’s only one sun in our solar system.
  • An old lady walked along the road.  A young boy was following the woman, dragging his schoolbag behind him.” –> the woman refers to an old lady that is mentioned before
  • “I walked into the classroomThe children quickly sat down except for a boy who hadn’t heard me come in”. –> the one that I talk to knows which classroom I’m talking about, the children is children in that classroom.
  • “We decided not to buy the house. The bathroom had no windows.” –> we decided not to buy just a particular house, will be a different story if “We decided not to buy a house. We will rent it instead.”

As an exercise, choose the correct articles in below text.

The/A goal of this work is to go further and provide the/an integrated solution and the/a systematic way for uniformly representing and declaratively querying the/- data, its schema-level provenance, and the/- mappings through which it has been derived. We address the/- issues such as determining what schema components and data sources contributed to the/- generation of the/a specific piece of information, through what views or queries this data was generated, and what transformation these queries performed. To achieve this, schemas and mappings are elevated to first-class citizens in the/a repository and the/a query language.

— Representing and Querying Data Transformations.  Velegrakis, Miller, Mylopolous.  (2005)

The answer? [spoiler]the, an, a, -, the, -, the, a, the, the[/spoiler]

One more thing, most of the time proper nouns (names of people, place –continent, country, city–, companies, things) don’t require articles. But there are exceptions — I remember this one scene in a movie when the character (who starts learning English) said, “I’m from the India”, and when she’s being corrected she innocently asked the teacher, “But why do we say the United States of America, but not the India?”. A detailed explanation on choosing the correct articles for proper nouns can be found here.

I hope it’s clear now ^^. It was pretty clear to me when I got this lesson, but still, I made mistakes sometimes. But it’s okay, mistakes happen so that we get our lesson not to do them again the next time ;).

(to be continued)

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