Use of ‘the’ and ‘of’

July 8, 2014

Based on a writing tip I wrote for my work colleagues…


M emailed me these questions about the proper use of ‘the’ and ‘of’ in these sample sentences:

  1.  This route has been selected rather than going around the […] drill centre so as to avoid clashing with the mooring lines of potential drilling rigs. Should I omit the ‘the’ in such cases?
  2. The dropped object analysis of the […] drill centres should be revised if necessary. Should I use ‘of’ or ‘for’?

My response to M:

In your first example, you can retain the ‘the’ or omit it. If you’re writing for readers whose prime language isn’t English, then leave it in as it aids interpretation. If you’re writing for those who are familiar with the context, then you could leave it out and get away with it—it almost becomes ‘bullet point speak’ in that case. Most times I’d leave it in just to remove any possibility of ambiguity. Alternatively, you could reword it to make it a little less awkward, though you’ll note I’ve left the ‘the’ in: Selecting this route avoids the mooring lines of potential drilling rigs at the […] drill centre.

As far as ‘for’ and ‘of’ in your second example, you need to look at ‘who’s doing what to whom’ and turn it around and perhaps reword it. Question: What has to be revised? Answer: The dropped object analysis. Question: The dropped object analysis of what? (note the ‘of’ here, not ‘for’—that gives you a clue as to which word to use) Answer: The […] drill centres. Thus, you end up with ‘of’ in the sentence as per your original. Alternatively, you could reword it. For example: If necessary, revise the dropped object analysis of the […] drill centres. However, even with these changes this sentence isn’t very clear. You also need to ask if it’s the analysis ‘of’ the drill centres that needs to be revised, or analysis ‘at’ the drill centres—i.e. in the context of this analysis, are the drill centres the place where the analysis occurs (in which case, use ‘at’, not ‘of’) or the thing that the analysis is studying (use ‘of’)?

As a side note, rewording these two sentences:

  • reduced the character count considerably—from 240 characters in the original sentences to 178 characters in the revised sentences… imagine that sort of saving across an entire document
  • made them easier to read.

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