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What article should be used in the following sentence?

He was English by [a/the/] blood.

I feel there should be a zero article here, but I was taught that the zero article is impossible in English.

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Whoever taught you that zero article is impossible in English was either oversimplifying things (as teachers often have to), or isn't very well versed in English. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-marking_in_English –  RegDwigнt Dec 6 '12 at 11:30
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@RegDwighт Interesting, why you omitted the article before "zero article", and the answerer below did not. –  Anixx Dec 6 '12 at 11:38
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@Anixx It depends on whether you regard zero article as a description of "" or as its name. In the case of recent coinages these uses can take a century or so to shake down. –  StoneyB Dec 6 '12 at 11:44
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

He was English by blood is correct.

It isn't true that the zero article is impossible in English. It all depends on the sentence.

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No article is required here because it's a fixed expression indicating family relationship by birth rather than marriage. Example: They are related by blood. My explanation is based on CALD3.

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So this also works in other cases? Such as "he is a negro by DNA"? –  Anixx Dec 6 '12 at 11:50
    
@Anixx: "A negro" is not politically correct these days. If you talk about black folks in the USA, most of the time, you will be expected to use "African American" or "black" or "Black" (some folks think it should be capitalized). If you talk about black folks in other western hemisphere countries, then you should probably use their country name (e.g., Haitian) or just the word "black", according to my friends from St. Vincent and St. Kitts & Nevis. Same rule probably applies to black Africans, but there's also "Sub-Saharan Africans" (not white South Africans). "By DNA" doesn't work. –  user21497 Dec 6 '12 at 12:39
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Who taught you that there is no zero article in English?

Briefly, articles work like this:

Singular countable noun ~ ~ definite - the ~ ~ indefinite - a/an

Plural countable noun: ~ ~ ~definite - the ~ ~ indefinite - zero

Uncountable: ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~definite - the ~ ~ indefinite - zero

In detail, they work like this.

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I meant in singular case of course. –  Anixx Dec 6 '12 at 13:48
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