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There are two correct (I hope so) sentences with weather taken from a book:

  • Was the weather nice?
  • Did you have nice weather?

Can somebody explain why there's an article in the first sentence and there isn't an article in the second one?

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Possible duplicate of some definite article Q. –  Kris Apr 27 '12 at 8:04
    
possible duplicate of Issues with articles –  Matt Эллен Apr 27 '12 at 8:10
    
On second thought, it's not –  Matt Эллен Apr 27 '12 at 8:16
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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Weather is a mass noun. When you ask about the quality of a mass noun using be, then it requires the definite article:

Was the weather nice?
Is the milk off?
Was the honey sweet?

Asking about having a mass noun means you can keep or drop the:

  1. Did you have the nice honey?
  2. Did you have nice honey?

It is important to note that these sentences mean different things. Sentence 1 is asking if, between a selection of honeys, the person had the nice one. Sentence 2 is asking if the honey that the person had was nice, but does not imply that there was a range to try from, that fact is not something you can determine from the question.

When we look at this construction with weather

  1. *Did you have the nice weather?
  2. Did you have nice weather?

Sentence 1 is semantically incorrect because weather is not something you can choose. However, you can modify the question to be, for example, about a previous aspiration and it then requires the definite article:

  1. Did you have the nice weather you were hoping for?
  2. *Did you have nice weather you were hoping for?

As you can see, this modification makes the second sentence grammatically incorrect, because aspirations require a specific instance to be talked about.

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This is not a weather phenomenon, that might be what's confusing you. Consider:

Was the food delicious?
Did you eat delicious food?

Were the beds comfortable?
Did you sleep on comfortable beds?

Was the water warm?
Did you swim in warm water?

Was the flight bumpy?
Did you have a bumpy flight?

The general constructs used here are:

Was [the][noun][adjective]?
Did you [verb][adjective][noun]?

In these constructs, when the noun is a plural noun or a mass noun (e.g., weather, water, beds), the article is generally removed. However, when the noun is singular (such as in last example – flight), the article is retained.

Regarding the first example (the one with food), change it to meal or meals, and see how pattern continues:

Was the meal delicious?
Did you eat a delicious meal?

Were the meals delicious?
Did you eat delicious meals?

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Does it only apply to questions? e.g, He was standing in cold weather vs. He was standing in a cold weather. Or, He usually walks in cold weather vs. He usually walks in a cold weather. To me the ones with articles sound wrong. What do you think? –  Noah Aug 14 '12 at 5:53
    
@Noah: Yes, the ones with the articles sound wrong. That's because weather, like food and water, is a plural or mass noun. As I said in my answer: when the noun is a plural noun or a mass noun (e.g., weather, water, beds), the article is generally removed. –  J.R. Aug 14 '12 at 9:22
    
I noticed 'the' in your example: the ones with the articles sound wrong. Is the necessary? I didn't use it in my comments. What do you think? –  Noah Aug 14 '12 at 10:22
    
Noah: Not necessary at all; I could've said, "the ones with articles sound wrong" with no change of meaning in this context. –  J.R. Aug 14 '12 at 10:27

'the weather' is in reference to how it was at a paticular situation of place and time.

Without the article, it refers to the weather in general.

The first question is about a situation already mentioned earlier in another sentence.

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The second question does not refer to weather in respect of some earlier reference -- it asks if it was nice, which is the focus -- not the situation. –  Kris Apr 27 '12 at 8:28
    
Remember that the two questions are exactly the same. –  Kris Apr 27 '12 at 8:39
    
If the questions are exactly the same then they both must refer to some situation that has already been mentioned, which is the case, so your reasoning is flawed. –  Matt Эллен Apr 27 '12 at 8:41
    
The reasoning is fine, indeed. The import of the sentences is different -- not the meaning. Which is what my answer already stated. Hope that encourages a re-read. –  Kris Apr 27 '12 at 8:48
    
"Without the article, it refers to the weather in general" contradicts itself in the most hilarious way. –  RegDwigнt Apr 27 '12 at 8:50

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