Because of the way the form is written, step-by-step in first person, it is necessary to put the a(n) to keep them grammatically correct for the Administrator case. However I feel like it makes the form look more confusing than necessary. Would it be a bad practice to remove the (n) and just have a case with incorrect grammar?

Example web form with radio buttons:


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

  • I realize if this example here is probably not the one you're having problems with. But in your instance could you just not try and rephrase the sentense so that it doesn't end with an: a or an? Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 14:42
  • The same is applicable no matter what si the UI language. Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 15:57
  • Relevant question from English.SE: When writing instructions, is it OK to leave “and” out of a quick chain of commands?
    – msanford
    Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 18:19
  • 3
    If you're really worried about grammar, you should note that most style guides only allow using a colon if the first clause is grammatically complete. Personally, I think the meaning of both examples is just as easy to parse.
    – Dean
    Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 19:41
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    You wouldn't write a sentence "I am sending this image to a: Manager." What you have is perhaps more like: "I am sending this image to a: user, administrator, or manager." Clearly, the standard grammatical sentence rules don't apply here. That's why you don't finish each option with a period and the last option isn't preceded by "or." Taking that into consideration, I think it makes sense to just write "a" instead of "a(n)." Since the first option doesn't start with a vowel, just use "a." It will make sense when read by the user. ("I am sending this image to a user, administrator, manager.") Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 20:21

5 Answers 5


The book On Writing Well (a great book,) suggests making things like these plural. In the book, he talks about how to avoid the gender problem when talking about men/women. (By calling them people.) For example, when talking about a specific user, instead of saying "when he clicks on the button..." you'd say "when they click on the button...", or the passive "when the button is clicked...".

Here's how this would work in your case:


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

This will work even if you're only ever sending things to a single person. People don't tend find it strange, and it avoids your a(n) problem.

This technique makes the labels a little shorter and keeps them easy to scan. In certain contexts, @matt's answer would also work. It depends on what you're going for.

  • +1 I like this one! And you wrapped your answer with good a good background and reasoning also. Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 22:04
  • Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. I always have a lot of fun thinking through these things. (As I'm sure we all do.) It's a great question, and I'm happy to have helped out! Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 13:40
  • I remember an old game manual for a card game I used to play had 'she' and 'her' in place of 'one' or 'a player'. It added some flavor and gave the illusion of balance to a male dominated game. So I think it's worth while to take a minute to consider stylistically if you're not in an intensely professional environment. Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 18:36

You could consider changing the wording of the values:


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

  • 9
    Still, one has to consider that the example above may just be an easilly mocked up example from the OP, and not the actual problem he's having. In a long list, having A or An infront of every item would make it hard to scan. Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 14:44
  • @AndroidHustle Indeed, very true. But the OP suggests this is part of a longer form where a first-person conversational style prevails. This would fit naturally with that if so.
    – Matt Obee
    Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 14:59
  • 5
    Matt that does seem like a good option, but I have to agree with @AndroidHustle that it makes it more difficult for the user to scan the options for the correct one. It is a part of form which follows a path based on the user's selection and then displays the next option based on the previous selection. At the end you have a maximum of 5 selections and the form displays a summary of your selections before you submit, still in the same first person scenario: I am sending an: Image I am sending this image to an: Administrator etc...
    – smoca
    Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 16:38
  • Adding an article in front of every option decreases the information value since all of the options start with "a" and it's harder to differentiate the words. So I would definitely agree with changing nouns to plural and dropping articles. Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 20:00

Keep it simple:

Send to:

  • User
  • Admin
  • Manager

It is quite common in English to skip articles at all in titles, etc.

  • 1
    Totally agree. You want to strip out as many words as possible. Reading is work. And users don't like mental activity if they can avoid it.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Oct 24, 2012 at 12:16
  • 1
    At first glance I was totally behind this, but I think if taken over-zealously it can really begin to feel clinical. Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 18:40
  • Totally disagree. This feels clinical, unpolite, robot-like language, or the work a a very very lazy programmer. If you would talk to a person like that you will be considered rude. So why would it be any different when a machine communicates with us? The argument of "reading is work" makes no sense. Have you ever seen a newspaper where they stripped out as many words as possible? Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 14:13

Note that "I am" is also not grammatical if two people are operating the machine as a pair.

Quite simply

Choose destination for image: {User, Administrator, Manager}
Send image to: {User, Administrator, Manager}

Send image to User is not bad grammar. Rather, it is an example of the condensed dialect of English that is used in newspaper headlines and point form summaries, in which most articles are dropped, and there is elision of elements which are understood from context, like sentence subjects. It is fine to use this dialect in UI.

  • 2
    +1: Having a followed by colon looks strange. I have never seen such thing in written English. Repeating the articles is grammatically correct but too much clutter. Putting in plural is common "trick" but can be misunderstood as sending to more than one manager/adm/user at once. Newspaper headline style is what we need here.
    – farfareast
    Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 23:49

I'd say this perfectly acceptable. I typically do the same thing when prompting a user to select one or more items. I just use the plural of the word, rather than add a (s) at the end. The idea here is to make it easier for the user to read and understand the label. If making it more grammatically correct makes it more confusing or more cumbersome for the user, then I don't think it's worth it.

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