The back of my VIP card reads: Present this card before payment

Why is there no any article before 'payment'? Shouldn't we add 'the' before 'payment'?

I understand in this case, maybe there is no article because 'payment' is uncountable, but are there any other reasons? (i.e. what if the word is countable, like 'before lunch / bath'?)

  • Words can only be identified as being count or non-count in constructions. If then. In prepositional phrases, the distinction gets very blurred. Would you query 'He may die before morning'? Even in some verb + noun strings, it makes little sense to argue for countness. 'They broke camp.' / 'They broke ranks.' / 'We weighed anchor.' / 'They are coming the old soldier.' – Edwin Ashworth Aug 22 '15 at 15:09
  • I've come to the conclusion over the years that it's best just to regard some prepositional phrases lacking articles as 'idioms' and leave it largely at that. Other usages also often lack articles ('Payment may be made in one of several ways'; 'A', 'The', 'This', 'Each' or 'Your' are also obviously possible determiners). – Edwin Ashworth Aug 17 at 11:31

This is known as telegraphic style. See this answer to a previous question.

To be sure, the other answers to this question are not wrong. However, the main reason for the lack of an article is that this is an example of telegraphic style, which omits the less important words, and is often found in signs and newspaper headlines. Your VIP card is a sort of a sign, so use of telegraphic style is not unusual.

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  • This is not at all correct. "Present this card before payment." is a perfectly grammatical sentence, not curtailed at all. The other answers are better. I agree that the sentence is not particularly well written. What they mean is "Present this card to effect payment", but as it stands it is certain grammatical, and insertion of the article would significantly change its meaning. – Fraser Orr Sep 17 '17 at 16:20

"Before payment" means before any payment (if you ever make one). "Before the payment" refers to only one specific payment (that's why we use a "definite article"). For instance: before the Easter payment, or before the payment you will make on Monday, or before the next payment (meaning that it does not apply to any further payment).

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  • 1
    But 'before morning' and 'before the morning' are largely interchangeable. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 22 '15 at 15:10

It seems you are deconstructing this sentence as:

Present this card before making a payment.

Which does leave you wondering about the article when they omit the word "making". However...

The way I deconstruct that sentence is:

Present this card before presenting us with payment.

Which is in need of no article.

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