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I saw a bear, a lion and a donkey.

Is the usage of the article a necessary before each word in a list like this?

Biggs set out Monday morning for one of his usual hiking and gold-panning trips near Whiskey Flats when he came across a mother bear, yearling, and cub sitting on a stream bank.

Why is there no article before cub?

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I think the second sentence needs one or two more articles (depending on whether the mother was the yearling, or there were three bears). –  GEdgar Apr 2 '12 at 13:58
    
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

No, it isn't necessary for an article to appear each time. However, the two sentence structures have different connotations.

I saw a bear, a lion and a donkey.

connotes that, at various times, you saw a bear, a lion, and a donkey.

I saw a bear, lion and donkey.

connotes that you saw a bear, lion, and donkey together in a group.

This connotation isn't inescapable, but it would be the default understanding.

There is no article before yearling or cub in your example because the writer intends to describe the three as appearing together. The construction also draws on an established understanding of a mother bear, yearling and cub being an expected family unit for bears to be traveling in; the entire construction is, in a partial sense, being treated as a single collective entity.

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I wonder if that's an American English thing. British English would tend to add the indefinite article to all of them, and not make the same/different time connotation (which needs to be stated explicitly if it's important and not apparent from the context). –  Andrew Leach Apr 2 '12 at 14:57
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@Andrew Leach: I'm UK too, but I incline towards the distinction chaos makes here. Not that it's definitive (though I doubt it is to Americans either), but I certainly wouldn't expect "Across the street we saw a man, a woman, and a child" in normal speech. –  FumbleFingers Apr 2 '12 at 15:16
    
Hmm. In that case, it's a bit more nuanced. One might expect Across the street we saw a bear, a lion and a donkey -- perhaps because that's rather unusual. –  Andrew Leach Apr 2 '12 at 15:19
    
@AndrewLeach: I would tend to expect that, yeah, because it's implied that they're in a group and that's weird. If someone said it without the articles, though, I wouldn't think it was incorrect, I would think they were highlighting how odd it was to find those three associating with one another. –  chaos Apr 2 '12 at 15:26
    
+1 for "This connotation isn't inescapable..." –  J.R. Apr 2 '12 at 15:31
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