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I was told today that the following sentence was incorrect because the noun "subject" is countable and therefore should have been put in the plural.

"I have to change subject every time."

However, I disagree and feel that the singular form is acceptable since it can be seen as, "I have to change [the] subject every time.

This sentence was in reference to having to change the topic of discussion in different meetings.

Thoughts?

  • I agree with you. They might be erroneously seeing a parallel to change clothes, but in that case it's referring to an aggregate. – Barmar Nov 4 '14 at 17:06
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The devil is in the details. The definite article you put in square parentheses, as though it makes no difference, makes all the difference. Indeed, the sentence

I have to change subject every time

is wrong, whereas

I have to change the subject every time

is perfectly fine and idiomatic.

I have to change subjects every time

is technically correct, but much less idiomatic than the change the subject version.

I should also add that in contexts where articles are usually omitted, such as in headlines, you can indeed use change subject, as in the contrived:

President Accused of Changing Subject when Confronted with Difficult Question

  • Thanks for your reply. Could this be argued as a difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammar? The original sentence still sounds perfectly fine to me... – labread Nov 4 '14 at 18:59
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    @labread: On the contrary. The reason that "change subject" is wrong is not that any prescribed rule prohibits it specifically, but rather that it just isn't used that way. I've been as descriptive as I could. But then it's just my opinion. – Armen Ծիրունյան Nov 4 '14 at 19:02

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