Re: Is (s) allowed?

Subject: Re: Is (s) allowed?
From: Jean Weber <jean_weber -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 4 Mar 1997 23:49:23 -0500

Mike Graham asked,

> I include the following sentence in a software manual:
>"The host computer will move the data from the cache module
> to the proper drive(s)."
> Comment: It is unknown whether the user is using one drives or
> multiple drives.
> Question: is it proper to use (s)? If not, what are other structures
> seem appropriate?

In my opinion (and in the opinion of various modern style guides, none of
which are handy to me at the moment, so I can't cite chapter-and-verse),
the use of (s) to designate "one or more" is old-fashioned, unnecessary,
and redundant. The plural (drives) includes the singular (drive) as a
subset. I have never seen a situation where using the plural is not
appropriate (that is, leads to confusion or misinformation). (No doubt
someone on this list will immediately provide me with the exception!)

One could argue, I suppose, that some users will not understand that the
plural includes the singular. On the other hand, in this particular case at
least, some users could interpret "the proper drive(s)" as "the proper
drive, which is the s drive." (Don't laugh. It's happened.) As with almost
everything else, it depends on your audience.

In most cases, I would simply say,

"The host computer will move the data from the cache module to the proper

If you believe it is necessary to explicitly state "one or more drives," or
"the proper drive or drives," then say so. Just don't use (s).

Jean Weber
Technical Writing, Editing and Publishing Consultant
Sydney, Australia - but my comments are based on American usage!

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