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RE: [eclipse-dev] Eclipse 3.4 M7 N&N needed by Wed. Apr. 30

I don't think there is a simple rule, and I suspect native speakers are
not consistent in their usage.  (I'm a native speaker of American
English, regionally from the east coast; it may be different elsewhere.)

The main difference is that "content" is more of an abstract concept of
"the set of things contained, considered as a singular entity", where
"contents" is more tangible and refers to "the specific items which are

Example: document content is distinct from document formatting, but the
document contents are lines of code or paragraphs of text.  I would
iterate "over" the content of a set, but I would iterate "through" its
contents - again, the suggestion of "content" as a single entity, and
"contents" as a collection of items.

Also, because it is more abstract, "content" has an implication of
"everything within the container"; "contents" means something more like
"items within the container", with less of a strong implication of

In some cases, idiom dictates which to use.  For instance, we would
never talk about the "table of content" of a book; it is always "table
of contents".  Maybe that's because when talking about the table of
contents, we're talking about the chapters of the book as individual
distinct items.

Note that grammatically, "content" is singular, but "contents" is

"Content" is less common a word than "contents" in normal speech, so it
feels a little more formal or jargon-y.

All the examples below sound right to me (as a native speaker).  The
"determined from content" suggests to me "content, as an attribute of
the document, as opposed to some other attribute such as file
extension."  The "unable to get document content" suggests a complete
failure, and again suggests that documents have other attributes and
that some of those (e.g., filename) might have been retrieved
successfully; by contrast, "unable to get document contents" doesn't
imply anything about the existence of other document attributes, and has
a slight implication that the failure might only have affected some of
the contents.  

In the final example, "replace the editor's content" would feel a little
awkward - there's an implication of "replace... with something other
than content".  I can replace a book's content with empty pages, but
short of that the book's content is text, and changing the text just
means the content has changed, not that it has been replaced.  But this
is quite subtle - honestly I don't think many people would notice the

Sorry, I doubt that helps clear anything up!


> -----Original Message-----
> From: eclipse-dev-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxx 
> [mailto:eclipse-dev-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Daniel Megert
> Sent: Friday, April 25, 2008 3:58 AM
> To: General development mailing list of the Eclipse project.
> Subject: Re: [eclipse-dev] Eclipse 3.4 M7 N&N needed by Wed. Apr. 30
> Hi Jim,
> I have a question regarding English language: is there a 
> simple rule when to use "content" vs. "contents"? When 
> looking at the Eclipse properties files I see both variants:
> Default (determined from content: {0})
> Unable to get document content. Left document type: {0}; 
> right document
> type: {1}.
> Content Assist
> And on the other hand, e.g.:
> The file has been changed on the file system. Do you want to 
> replace the editor contents with these changes?
> Thanks,
> Dani

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