I read on Purdue OWL names of languages/nationalities, names of sports and names of academic subjects do not require articles. But what are the other situations?

To be more specific, I saw the sentence "I'd been sitting here for 10 minutes before class started" in a grammar book, and I wonder why there was no article in front of class.

When I asked the writing lab, I got the answer that it's convention. I got another example from the person who answered my question, saying other common usages including "I'm waiting for dinner to start" or "Let's leave after dessert" are both correct.

Is it just convention? Is there any rule behind it? Thank you!!

  • 1
    No particular rule. Americans, more than British speakers, are inclined to drop the article in the examples you give. That's with the exception of dinner. No one would use the article in the context you gave for that. But there are situations in which I would say the dinner. E.g. 'I'm not a member of the golf club and I am not invited to their AGM, but I can if I wish stay for the dinner.'
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 18:40
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    The article tends to be used when referring to a specific dinner, but not when referring to it more generically.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 18:48
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    @WS2: I've no prior knowledge of whether AmE is more likely to drop the article in such contexts, but I do note that with the comparable before {the} term starts, the AmE corpus shows both forms used about equally. But only the version without the article occurs often enough in BrE to actually chart. Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 18:50
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    @WS2: I have heard British folks dropping articles from dinner certainly. And note that they also drop them where we wouldn't: we say in the hospital where they would say in hospital.
    – Robusto
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 19:30
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    British English also has "in future" instead of "in the future," though I'm not sure it's the same with the past and the present. That's what makes articles so hard for ESL speakers to get the hang of. There are plenty of words where Americans drop the article while Brits retain it, plenty of words where Brits drop the article while Americans retain it, and plenty of other words that just depend on the context of the sentence.
    – Nicole
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 19:48

1 Answer 1


There is no convention for knowing which nouns are able to exclude an article. There are several additional categories that can be article-free, but again it is just a helpful generalization. Almost all of them are perfectly capable of having a definite or indefinite article depending on the sentence.


At camp, we built a fire. The camp was set on fire! I want to go to a nicer camp next year.


We had roast for dinner. Unfortunately, the roast burned. It always burns whenever I cook a roast.


You'll get there faster by car than train. You can take the car. I prefer the comforts of a train.

Uncountables (the indefinite form is generally presented without article):

I like to drink water with my meals. Please pass the water.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Some nouns are found mostly without articles. These are the ones you mentioned in your question: nationalities, sports, subjects, but also seasons and holidays.


Leaves typically fall off trees during autumn.


I prefer not to work on Christmas.


Unfortunately, like so many things in English, the usage does not follow a very strict set of rules.

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