Bitesize STE – Essentials 4: Articles and pronouns

Bitesize STE is written by Ciaran Dodd, course director for Mekon’s Simplified Technical English (STE) training course.

Since issue 7 of the ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English (STE) specification came out in January, I have read it thoroughly while I updated our two-day Introduction to STE course. As part of the course, we review some essentials of grammar that you have to know to understand the rules of STE. In the next few issues of Bitesize, we’ll look at these essentials and explain why you need to know them in order to write well in STE. We’ll also explain any changes in issue 7, 2017.

In our latest Bitesize STE Ciaran takes a closer look at articles and pronouns.

What is an article?

article: “A word that tells you whether a noun phrase is new (indefinite = a, an) or one that you already know (definite = the).” (2-0-4, ASD-STE100, 2017)

‘A’, ‘an’, and ‘the’ may seem like small and unnecessary words. In fact, I have often seen examples of technical text without articles, for example: “Remove nut from bolt.”

However, you must use articles in STE where it is applicable. This is because articles are important clues to help users determine when a word is a noun, particularly where words can be nouns and other parts of speech (like ‘damage’). Articles can be a useful test to help you decide whether a word can be a noun. If you can put ‘a’, ‘an’ or ‘the’ before a word, it can be a noun. Omitting articles could cause ambiguity (rule 4.2) because you are making the reader guess whether a word is a noun or another part of speech. If you use articles, the reader does not have to guess your meaning.

What is a pronoun?

pronoun (pron): A word that replaces a noun or noun phrase.” (2-0-4, ASD-STE100, 2017)

A pronoun stands in place of a noun that we have already referred to. For example: “If the canopies are dirty, clean them.” (2-1-T3, ASD-STE100, 2017)

In this example, ‘them’ is the pronoun that refers to ‘canopies’, which is the subject of the instruction.

The main pronouns used in STE are:

  • some personal pronouns like ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘them’ and ‘they’; and
  • some demonstrative pronouns like ‘this’, ‘these’, ‘that’ and ‘those’.

‘It’ is also a pronoun used in STE.

In STE, we use pronouns for three main reasons.

  1. Pronouns are useful where you don’t want to repeat a noun too many times, as in the canopies example. In this instance, it is clear that ‘them’ refers to the ‘canopies’. Where there is more than one noun in a sentence, make sure that it is clear which noun your pronoun refers to. Readers tend to associate the pronoun with the nearest noun to it. This example from 1-9-11, ASD-STE100, 2017 shows this:

“If you engage the pins incorrectly with the seats, they can become damaged.”

It looks as though ‘they’ refers to ‘seats’, when ‘they’ actually refers to the ‘pins’.

  1. Pronouns can also be agents when you need to write a verb in the active voice. This is explained in section 3 on verbs. There are plenty of examples of this in the section on safety instructions. For example, this caution states:

“When you assemble the unit, do not let the parts fall. If they fall, permanent damage can occur.” (1-7-3, ASD-STE100, 2017).

  1. In section 4, STE also states that pronouns can be useful words to connect ideas in related sentences. For example, this caution states:

“When you remove the probes, do not let them touch. If they touch, they can become demagnetized.” (1-4-6, ASD-STE100, 2017)

So, both of these parts of speech related to nouns have important functions in STE. Do not leave articles out to make your sentences shorter, and use pronouns carefully to reduce ambiguity.

In the next two articles, we will look at the adjectives and adverbs, which give you more information about other parts of speech.

Looking for Simplified Technical English (STE) Training?

Book your place on one of our Simplified Technical English training courses. Our Simplified Technical English Training course is a practical introduction for those who will use Simplified Technical English (formerly AECMA Simplified English).

The course introduces the philosophy of Simplified Technical English, explains the underlying grammatical principles and gives delegates opportunities to use Simplified Technical English in practical exercises. These exercises can be based on your company’s documentation.

Find out more about our Simplified Technical English Specification: ASD-STE100 training delivered by Ciaran or email

About Ciaran

“Who is your audience and what do they need?”

“How do you meet those needs efficiently, cost effectively and to a high standard?”

Ciaran Dodd has been ensuring that clients address both of these questions using ASD Simplified Technical English (ASD-STE100) since 2002, after being trained by the United Kingdom’s ASD-STE100 co-ordinator in 2001. Ciaran started her career in training at Rolls-Royce, which is where she became involved in training all aspects of writing, including ASD-STE100. After leaving the organisation, Ciaran set up an independent consultancy specialising in communication and learning skills. She has extensive experience of working with major names in engineering; particularly in defence aerospace and the automotive industries.

Ciaran is a qualified trainer, teacher and teacher of English as a foreign language. After completing a law degree at Cambridge University, she taught English in a Chinese university for two years. She has taught all aspects of the English language in commercial and public organisations since 1994.