I read that when you classify or define people and things you use a/an:

Don't use your plate as an ashtray.

But then I found a news article which included the following sentence:

Indian teenager allegedly raped twice after cops failed to follow her after using her as 'bait'.

Shouldn't the correct sentence be "using her as a bait?"

My question is as follows:

  1. Which is grammatically correct? Using her as bait or using her as a bait?

  2. If the former is correct then why is the indefinite article not used after as? Isn't it defining her as a bait?

  3. If both are grammatically correct then what is the difference in meaning or usage?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

  • An should be used before Indian, too.
    – user140086
    Oct 14, 2015 at 13:19
  • But that's symptomatic of a newspaper headline, although that might indicate that the article has been omitted from bait for the same reason (which is not the case).
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 14, 2015 at 13:35
  • @AndrewLeach It doesn't look that concise for a headline.
    – user140086
    Oct 14, 2015 at 13:46
  • Perhaps it doesn't; but it is a headline.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 14, 2015 at 13:48
  • @AndrewLeach Apparently, the OP's "I found a news article which included the following sentence" is a bit misleading.Then, it can explain why "a" was not used before bait, too.
    – user140086
    Oct 14, 2015 at 13:55

1 Answer 1


The absence of articles at all in the sentence indicates that it's a newspaper headline, as such a practice is a common way of saving space. However, not every noun which is missing an article should actually have one.

Bait is a mass noun so it's uncountable and cannot usually take an article, in the same way as furniture doesn't.

Indian teenager used as furniture
*Indian teenager used as a furniture

As with all such nouns, different types can be enumerated and in that case, an article may be appropriate.

Wensleydale is a cheese beloved of plasticine Yorkshiremen and their dogs.

Note that the use of as is immaterial here; it's the noun itself and its properties as a mass/ non-count noun which determines whether an article is needed.

The Indian teenager should indeed have an article, because teenager is a count noun rather than a mass noun. But this has been omitted in the headline.

  • In the same dictionary, bait is used as a countable noun. [count noun]: ‘fishing with live baits’. Was it intentional to use BrE definition?
    – user140086
    Oct 14, 2015 at 13:52
  • It is possible for non-count nouns to become countable when you are differentiating between variants: types of bait, cheese, or maybe even furniture. But furnitures would be far more unusual than types of furniture.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 14, 2015 at 13:55
  • 3
    @Rathony I can't agree with you there I'm afraid. ...using her as bait would seem far more natural.
    – WS2
    Oct 14, 2015 at 14:25
  • 1
    Your answer at “Seems like an overkill” vs. “seems like overkill” (closed as 'too basic') seems somewhat similar. Oct 14, 2015 at 15:32
  • 1
    Surely, the mass noun is the only one appropriate in this context - the police decided to use her as (a kind of) bait. It is tautologous to say the police used her as a human bait (because we know already that she ('her') is human).
    – Dan
    Oct 15, 2015 at 0:24

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