In this sentence:

The commission commanded that work on the building should cease.

Why isn't the used before the word work? It seems that the work is specified by on the building.

Another example is,

Construction of the building will start next week.

I understand construction here is something like putting up the building, and so the construction isn’t general in meaning. But the definite article isn’t used here, either.

I’ve asked about this several times, but none gave me a good answer.

  • 1
    possible duplicate of Use (or non-use) of articles before abstract nouns
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 19:46
  • I'm not sure you'll be given an answer that really satisfies you and leaves you happy. English is quirky. I'm sure that some natural speakers would prefer construction ... to the construction ... here, in ordinary conversation (headlinese tends to omit articles anyway), but the building of the bridge ... to building of the bridge .... Your first example sounds more idiomatic without the article (which would not however be wrong here) - possibly because the expression 'start work on ...' is so well known. Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 19:51
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    @ Edwin Ashworth I feel the same. English is quirky, but any language would be, even my mother tongue. No one except you have replied, which seems that my question is some hard to explain. Any opinions are ok, so I'd like everyone to leave anything that could be reasonable. I want to have a guess at this with more clues. Thanks @Edwin Ashworth. :)
    – KSS
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 21:24

2 Answers 2


We use "the work" to indicate some particular work, some specified project on one portion of the edifice, such as (for example) replacing the walls in one office, or repairing the elevators. For this reason, we really never say "the work on the building," because "the work" doesn't encompass the entire structure, whereas "on" the building does generally imply we are talking about the entire structure. If we were referring to a specific project, such as replacing the elevators, we might say "the work being done on the building."

"Work on the building" is used almost exclusively to refer to the totality of all work involved in constructing a building. In other words, it stands in for "building the building," which we don't say because of the awkwardness of repeating the word "building." We might also use "work on the building" it if the work involved really is work that affects the entire building, such as a complete, massive renovation.

  • It's not a geeky; it's perfectly reasonable. The second sentence is essentially the same case. "The construction" is used to mean "a specified sub-portion." "Construction" means "the entire process of building it." It's conceptual, rather than specific. You're right about "the students," because it's not a mass noun. There's also the fact that "the construction" CAN be used to mean "all;" there's no hard-and-fast rule. But there are multiple reasons for saying something a particular way, and the simple fact that "the construction of the building" uses "the" twice is reason enough to drop one. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 7:24
  • Your explanation's different to Cmilz's. As far as I know, the definite article narrows down the range of the modified noun. For example, in 'the students in this class', the students means all the students in the class. My guess was that the work referred to the whole process of putting up the building. I'm not a native speaker and so I'm getting confused! And I wonder yours also goes with the second question, 'construction of the building will start next week'. Even if yours or Cmilz's might be wrong, I'm very grateful to you all for paying attention to my geeky question!
    – KSS
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 7:24
  • I happened to click the delete button. Yes, I've got the same idea. There are always a lot of ways to get across one's feelings in language, and must be reasons for why some way should be used, making perfect rules out of them will never be possible, though. But seeking for those are all I want to do, and you've much helped me with one of those. :) I'd like you to help me in the future. Thanks!
    – KSS
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 7:37

The best answer I can come up with, is that different people view "work" on a building (and "construction" of a building) in different ways.

One who uses the article views the work process as collective. In other words, we are all working together on this building. The construction of this building requires a single collective work effort. The phrase, "the work", best describes this.

On the other hand, one who chooses to use no article is using "work" as a mass noun (which generally lack an article, as in the case of the word water: "the glass is filled with water", vs. "the glass is filled with the water"... the latter sounds awkward, unless you are referring to a specific source of water), and they are trying to encompass not only the greater collective "work" that is being done, but the individual "work" being performed by each individual member of a crew.

In this particular case, in the first example, they want to make sure that nobody is doing anything to work on that building, and so, rather than viewing all work on the building as a single "work", they are viewing it as a plural, with masons, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, etc. providing individual work.

The same principal applies in the second example, with it viewed as a process of a collaborative effort made up of everyone's individual efforts, rather than as a singular collective effort.

Really, there is no real reason why it is written this way, except, perhaps, as a "politically correct" way of appeasing workers who are putting a great deal of effort into a project. Whether or not anyone actually picks up on this is debatable; however, you will find the article-less "work" used far more uniformly in announcements made to workers than in announcements made to those for whom the building is being worked on and in literature.

  • Your explanation does make sense to me. I think you could show a few more examples or words used that way, if you would do me one more favor. I'm really happy to get a good clue to my question. Thank you very much @Cmillz!
    – KSS
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 22:34
  • I'm not sure there are a lot of other examples quite like this, unfortunately, simply because work is a mass noun. However, it would be similar to saying "The banana is a vital part of a monkey's diet," as opposed to "Bananas are a vital part of a monkey's diet." The former puts emphasis on the banana as a type of fruit, whereas the latter puts more emphasis on individual bananas and each banana's nutritional value, independent from other bananas.
    – Cmillz
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 23:17
  • Actually, the best example is probably a questionable one, so don't hold this against me, please... It is the difference between saying "Hitler tried to kill the Jewish people," vs. "Hitler tried to kill Jewish people." The latter sounds far more personal, doesn't it? It brings to mind individual people, rather than a group of people.
    – Cmillz
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 23:23
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    In that context, "the Jewish people" means all Jews, the entire nation or race or culture of Jews. But "Jewish people" refers to some Jews (plural), not necessarily all. Maybe as few as two. That is why the former is a stronger statement.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 0:02
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    Ascribing this to political correctness strains credulity! Plus, this answer is full of errors and unsupported claims: 1. "Water" is a mass noun whether "the" precedes it or not. 2. "Collaborative effort" and "collective effort" can't be considered much different. 3. "Work" used without "the" is found a huge number of times in many contexts, especially in public announcements, thus refuting your claim. 4. "Making sure that nobody is doing any work" is not in some way assured by not using "the." That would be accomplished by specific orders conveyed directly from management to workers. Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 6:07

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