In Chapter 4 of the book A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar, written by Rodney Huddleston of the University of Queensland and Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of Edinburgh and published by Cambridge University Press in 2005, it was stated that

A bare role NP [noun phrase] is a singular NP that is ‘bare’ in the sense of lacking the determiner which would elsewhere be required, and that denotes some kind of role, office, or position. A PC [predicative complement] can have the form of a bare role NP, but an O [object] can’t:

i  a.  She became the treasurer.   b.  She knew the treasurer.

ii  a.  She became treasurer.   b.  *She knew treasurer. [ungrammatical]

On the contrary, there is a question (Is this proper English: "I am student"?) I found here on StackExchange on the similar topic, in which the OP was wildly discredited, and the question was closed for lack of research.  I have the same problem, and here I am posting my research, which is also the origin of my question.  

Before I read this book, I also believed that it was wrong to say things like “I am student” without any determiner.  However, it became clear to me that apparently in numerous Indo-European languages, clauses like je suis étudiant (French) and Ich bin Student (German) are completely grammatical, whereas somehow the version with the determiner (je suis un étudiant or Ich bin ein Student) is less preferred, if not completely ungrammatical.  So, why, for some curious reasons, is it definitely deprecated, if not ungrammatical, to say things like “I am student” in English?  

  • 1
    If you say "I am student" you're saying "I am the prototypical student", or "I am speaking for all students". or something to that effect. Similar to "I Am Woman".
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 21 '15 at 12:55
  • @HotLicks Thank you very much for sharing your opinion. However, would you say the sentence given in that book, “She became treasurer”, implies the same thing? Ergo, there is an inherent semantic difference between “She became the treasurer” and “She became treasurer”? Aug 21 '15 at 12:59
  • She became treasurer of the organization being discussed, so it's clear that one is not suggesting she is a prototypical treasurer. You may add "the" if desired, but using "a" to distinguish between "instance of" and "prototype" is not necessary.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 21 '15 at 13:01
  • @HotLicks I see your point, which is also what I thought when I first commented on chasly from UK’s answer. Chasly pointed out that it would be awkward to say “I am student of physics”, then I thought if it was possible to interpret “I am student of physics” as an alternative to “I am the student of physics”, in which a specific member of the larger group, students of physics, was drawn into the discussion—in the same way that in the sentence “She became treasurer”, as you said, it is implied that she became the treasurer of a specific organization being discussed. Aug 21 '15 at 13:08
  • Because languages are different. What is grammatical in one language can be ungrammatical in another one.
    – rogermue
    Jan 13 '16 at 3:51

The question seems to be, how does a non-native speaker determine whether a given noun is a "role" or if it has some titular sense (so that it can be used "bare")?

She became treasurer. [OK]

She became student. [not OK]

She became student of the month. [OK]

She became doctor. [not OK]

She became doctor to the king. [OK]

It was gateway to the rose garden. [not OK]

The city of St. Louis was Gateway to the West. [OK]

A role is typically occupied by one person or by a few, e.g. Assistant Vice President. Employee would not be considered a role because, in most contexts, an employee is one of many, even though we can imagine a small mom-and-pop candy store hiring only one employee. The operative condition: in most contexts, usually. In situations where there is usually only one such noun, there must be something special about the noun in order for it to be regarded as a role. (see the gateway example).

Student and doctor in the examples above are comparable to employee. They need something additional to identify them as particular student or doctor roles.

  • This explains a lot, and clears up much of my earlier confusion. Thank you very much! However, how would you explain the examples in History of Worcester, Massachusetts, “Francis Blake, is student of theology in the Divinity School at Cambridge. Henry Bigelow, H. U. 1836, son of Lewis Bigelow, is student of medicine”? Aug 21 '15 at 13:37
  • 1
    Shooting from the hip here, Aphremelius, but being a university student was in the America of those days far less common than is now the case, and it was thus perceived to be a position of some standing and dignity. Also, universities where long-standing tradition was prized tended to deliberately conservative, even anachronistic, in their use of language, and we could expect to find 18th century locutions employed, dating from a time when being a university student was even rarer than it was in the 19th century. See this ngram.
    – TRomano
    Aug 21 '15 at 13:50
  • See this ngram. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – TRomano
    Aug 21 '15 at 13:50

"I am President of the USA." "I am Prime Minister of the UK."

The above are correct. There is only one of each at a particular time.

"I am student of physics."

This is normally considered to be incorrect because you are one of many students who study physics. Therefore you are 'one student' or 'a student' of physics.

"I am student of all things American."

This is allowable in English although usually considered formal. It focuses on your role rather than being a description of you.

Edit in response to comments


The teachers I teach are my students. They are also teachers – to their students. They are students of their students' learning, as I am student of their learning. They and I are also colleagues, fellow academics.

Using Experience for Learning edited by David Boud, 1993

Francis Blake, is student of theology in the Divinity School at Cambridge. Henry Bigelow, H. U. 1836, son of Lewis Bigelow, is student of medicine. John Healy Heywood, H. U. 1836, son of Levi Hey wood, is engaged in instruction

History of Worcester, Massachusetts - By William Lincoln

I was unable to find any recent examples of American usage.

  • Thank you very much for your answer. However, would you say the example “She became treasurer” provided in that book correct or incorrect? If the answer is correct, may I presume that when the determiner of a NP is definite, it could be omitted when the NP is used as a predicative complement? If the answer is yes, may I ask if it is possible to interpret “I am student of physics” as an alternative to “I am the student of physics”, in which a specific member of the larger group, students of physics, is drawn into the discussion, and so if it could be interpreted as correct? Aug 21 '15 at 9:55
  • 1
    Disagree: your last sentence is not grammatical.
    – tchrist
    Aug 21 '15 at 11:29
  • I agree with @tchrist as far as American English goes., This may be a UKism.
    – keshlam
    Aug 21 '15 at 11:41
  • I'll find some examples and edit my answer. Aug 21 '15 at 11:43
  • 1
    @keshlam I wouldn't use this construction with student, but I wouldn't blink at I am master of my fate or I am servant to all men for example.
    – choster
    Aug 21 '15 at 12:26

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