Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Are singular non-proper countable nouns always preceded by a determiner (a, the, some, any, this, that)?

ORIGINAL QUESTION: "Dose singular no-proper [Are singular common] nouns always preceded by an article (a, the) or are there some situations that this is not true?"

share|improve this question
Can you give some examples to explain what you mean to ask? –  Kris Oct 30 '12 at 4:46
@Reza: I don't know what you mean by "in a wired way", but I've already answered the original question. The answer to the new question is very brief: A determiner of some sort is almost always required. Very informally, {Bike/Car/Bus/Train} is how I get to work is acceptable spoken and written American English. –  user21497 Oct 30 '12 at 9:32
Okay, edit #9 is acceptable. Thank you, whoever did it. –  user21497 Oct 30 '12 at 9:35

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As a rule of thumb, you can get a so-called "bare noun" when the noun represents a collection of indeterminate items. So for example, consider the pair:

(a) I saw some children playing and some adults going to work.

(b) I saw children playing and adults going to work.

Case (a) uses "some", which you may be used to considering as an 'indeterminate' article. In case (b), no article is used at all.

Now, although "indeterminate", the crucial thing about using 'some' in (a) is that it implies that the children/adults could be specified. In case (b), by using bare nouns, you imply that the children/adults are basically unspecifiable. It would sound a little odd to say, for example:

"??I saw adults going to work. I recognised them as Peter and Jim from next door."

whereas it would sound more natural with the article:

"I saw some adults going to work. I recognised them as..."

Now, this rule of thumb extends to various "set phrases" where it is unusual to specify the particular item in question. For example:

I travelled by plane.

Here you don't generally care about the specific plane. Notice that if you do, re-wording in a way that uses the article becomes more natural:

*I travelled by plane whose flight number was 731.

I travelled on a plane whose flight number was 731.

share|improve this answer

The term you're looking for, to describe a word of this kind that is needed with a singular count noun, is determiner. Wikipedia has a good article about the use of determiners.

share|improve this answer
Though the term "article" is common enough in informal usage when you're not engaging in a stricter analysis that separates constituents such as determiners, quantifiers, specifiers etc. –  Neil Coffey Oct 30 '12 at 6:15
David Wallace is correct when he says that the proper term is determiner. There are only two possible articles: a[n]/the; both are determiners, as are all quantifiers, specifiers, and pre-nominal pronouns and adjectives: "A determiner is a word, phrase or affix that occurs together with a noun or noun phrase"..."Common kinds of determiners include definite and indefinite articles (like the English the and a[n]), demonstratives (like this and that), possessive determiners (like my and their), and quantifiers (like many, few and several)". link –  user21497 Oct 30 '12 at 9:24

No, not always. There is a feature of language known as anarthrousness in which an article is absent where it might be expected. For example, British political parties have annual conferences. When speakers address them, they don’t say, ‘I recommend to the conference . . .’ They say ‘I recommend to conference . . .’ In British courts, barristers are referred to as ‘counsel for the defence’ and ‘counsel for the prosecution’ and not ‘the counsel for the defence’ or ‘the counsel for the prosecution'. Other words which can show this feature include congress, parliament and school.

In one particular instance there is a difference between British and American English. In the UK, patients ‘go (in)to hospital’, whereas in the US, I believe, they 'go to the hospital’. The article can be used before hospital in British English, but only in contexts not involving a patient.

share|improve this answer

When I go grocery shopping, I drive {a/the/my/her/our/that/any available} car.

This is an example of a sentence in which a common count noun, car, can be used without the article. In its place, however, there is another determiner: a possessive pronoun (my/her/our) or an adjective phrase (any available).

I commute to work by {bus/train/bicycle}. There's no article, but there is a determiner, by. And in the preceding sentence, there's the negative particle no, a determiner, instead of an article.

Finally, and very informally, {Bike/Car/Bus/Train} is how I get to work.

The short answer to your question is that there are some situations in which singular common count nouns are not preceded by a/an/the.

share|improve this answer
Just for completeness, the first sentence, "I drive car," is completely alien to British English. It requires an article or some other determiner. –  Andrew Leach Oct 30 '12 at 8:16
@AndrewLeach: The original question was "Dose singular no-proper nouns always preceded by an article (a, the) or are there some situations that this is not true?" "I drive car" is completely alien to American English too. It requires an article or some other determiner. My first sentence offers 7 determiners: {a/the/my/her/our/that/any available} but not "I drive car". It says that the article a or the is not always required, but that "In its place, however, there is another determiner". This Q's been edited >5 times. It makes my answer look absurd now. –  user21497 Oct 30 '12 at 9:05
Ah. It appears I misunderstood the {choose|any|alternative} syntax as well. I wasn't expecting a mixture of BNF and set theory! –  Andrew Leach Oct 30 '12 at 9:18
Sorry that my answer wasn't as lucidly expressed as I imagined, Andrew. –  user21497 Oct 30 '12 at 9:34

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.