In academic writing, I frequently run across texts where the determiner is dropped when a person is described as having a medical condition or having suffered an injury. Moreover, a singular noun is sometimes used instead of a plural one. Here are some examples.

  • "Twenty percent of the nurses suffered back injury"
  • "We identified [...] residents [...] who had been diagnosed with neck injury."
  • "patients who had suffered minor closed head injury"

Is this standard usage in English? To me, a non-native speaker, it seems off and should be rewritten:

  • "Twenty percent of the nurses suffered a back injury"
  • "We identified [...] residents [...] who had been diagnosed with a neck injury"
  • "patients who had suffered minor closed head injuries"
  • 1
    The short answer is that injury, trauma, illness, pain, and many similar words have both countable and non-countable uses— as do treatment, medication, surgery, and so on. If you look up injury at ODO, for example, the mass noun uses are labeled. You can suffer head injury and receive pain medication. Or, you can suffer several head injuries, and receive several pain medications.
    – choster
    Sep 12, 2015 at 1:28

2 Answers 2


I suspect the lack of determiner reflects the fact that the injury or trauma in question is both countable and not countable. A man shot in the arm might have a broken arm, a bruised arm, a lacerated arm, and a punctured arm. You could say these are all injuries to the arm. But you could also describe the entire affair as injury or an injury to the arm. Omitting the determiner means not having to choose whether the injur[y is|ies are] countable, or put another way, avoids the need to quantify.


You may think of it this way:

Twenty percent of the nurses had a diagnosis of "back injury".

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