I've noticed that today lots of publications, such as textbook, newspapers, magazines, etc, often don't use the indefinite articles "a", "an" with indefinite singular and countable nouns especially in adverbial phrases and clauses. I don't see any consistency in the use along with a strict following of a grammar rule - every countable singular noun should be preceded by an article (with exceptions).

Examples from media:

The CDC came under scrutiny last year

...delaying life events like marriage, having a child, buying a home, or starting a business...

...prospective students put cost at the top of their priority list.

The University of Oslo says Friday July 17, 2015, convicted mass killer Anders Behring Breivik has been admitted to...

...as O'Malley, a former Maryland governor, was interviewed on stage.

... and she was taken to county jail.

Buckingham Palace voiced disappointment after...

All the aforementioned nouns in bold can be used as plurals, which means they need an article when singular.

Please help understand.

  • 1
    Where have you got your grammar rule from? Looks like an oversimplification and does not agree with what you find in written language. I suppose you should adjust your too simplistic rule.
    – rogermue
    Jul 19, 2015 at 7:43
  • The rule: The indefinite article "a" or "an" is used only with singular, countable nouns. It indicates that the referent of the noun phrase is one unspecified member of a class. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_articles#Usage I don't find any grammar rule permitting me to omit articles in the examples in my question.
    – Shcat
    Jul 19, 2015 at 14:36
  • But you see in reality that Wikipedia's rule does not work. They should mention this is a general rule, but one has to consider the fact that English has a tendency to drop the article (definite or indefinite) when the article does not achieve much and can be dropped without loss of clearness. Don't take rules you find as a word of the Bible. Most rules have to be amended the more you get into English.
    – rogermue
    Jul 19, 2015 at 14:46
  • I like this tenancy to drop articles. My native language, like many others, doesn't have articles at all, and people still clearly with the same meaning can understand each other.
    – Shcat
    Jul 19, 2015 at 14:55
  • And actually Wikipedia does not mean you must use a/an before a countable noun in singular. It only says that a/an is used ( when it is used) only with such nouns.
    – rogermue
    Jul 19, 2015 at 14:56

2 Answers 2


This is known as Zero-marking.

And it isn't just the omission of indefinite articles, it's the omission of the article completely. In all of your examples you could still have used a definite article... or an indefinite one.

  • But your Zero-marking link only mentions about the "jail/prison" rule in my examples, and Wikipedia doesn't answer the rest of them. Zero-marking, according to Wikipedia, only applies to: plurals and mass nouns, specific institutions (prison, school), the word "bed", instructions and manuals.
    – Shcat
    Jul 19, 2015 at 14:25

I find the rule either necessary nor useful. Death is sad, a death is sad, the death is sad: all are useful and have slightly different overtones on the same theme.

  • It can be vague and vary. I could not find lots of omissions in CNN, FOX News and some popular nationwide newspapers. So they tend not to consider something unnecessary or not useful.
    – Shcat
    Jul 19, 2015 at 14:40
  • What's interesting, as a foreigner, I don't find articles useful at all and could easily omit them without loosing context. If a bunch of languages doesn't have articles with no substitution, and people have the same understanding like in English, why English cannot?
    – Shcat
    Jul 19, 2015 at 14:49
  • To take my example: Death (as a general concept) is sad. A death (referring to one death - of some unspecified person) is sad. The death (of a particular person) is sad. These are all different, and the use of the article enriches the meaning of each.
    – Anton
    Jul 20, 2015 at 11:51

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