I basically know that when I want to use some nouns then I need to consider the proper form of the articles ahead of the nouns and if the noun is countable or uncountable.

Sometimes I see some cases which don't use proper articles like "a/an or the", called "zero article"

I understand when the noun is uncountable then the noun can stand alone without any article (or with zero article), but I see there are some cases "zero article" was used though the noun is countable noun obviously.

Is there some grammatical rule for it?

I hope I could know the grammatical rules precisely because I want to use it properly. Sometimes it is frustrating to use "a/an or the" over and over again. And I know it can be omitted when it is obvious like setting the title or theme of some exhibitions in the leaflet or banner etc.

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    Could you give some examples? Count nouns generally do require a determiner of some sort. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 23 '16 at 10:22
  • Thanks. Like when I set the title of story I made up, could the title of the book (or any types of exhibition) be "dream for the Atlantis". I know the word "dream" is mostly considered as a countable noun. but if it is differently nuanced – Sam Oct 23 '16 at 11:38
  • Titles are special cases and have special rules; they're often in telegraphese, which eschews determiners, progressive aspects, pronouns, and many other things. They are grammatical only in that particular style. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 23 '16 at 11:40
  • Ah I was editing it haha. Check this [Thanks. Like when I set the title of story I made up, could the title of the book (or any types of exhibition) be "dream for the Atlantis". I know the word "dream" is mostly considered as a countable noun. If it is, however, differently nuanced, can I use it with "zero article"?? I assume it would get some sense of indefinite, uncertain or abstract concept.] – Sam Oct 23 '16 at 11:46
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    The Collins Cobuild series includes a 100+ page monograph on the articles. And even that isn't comprehensive. / 'Dream for the Atlantis' (I assume 'the Atlantis' is a ship) is, as Janus indicates, headlinese rather than a validation that the article may be dropped elsewhere. There are situations where usage seems indeterminate (he's got nerve / a nerve), but I'd class both these as fixed idioms and say that trying to determine countness is a waste of time (though He's got three nerves. is of course unacceptable). // The indefinite article sometimes appears with non-count noun usages. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 23 '16 at 13:46

There are no grammatical rules for which articles should or shouldn’t be used with certain nouns.

Except a and a plural noun – it is incorrect to say “I dreamed a dreams.”

Don’t think that you have to use a particular article, or no article, depending on the noun. This is a case of selecting the article, or leaving articles out completely, depending on what you want to mean when you use the noun. Adding articles (or not) changes the specificity of the article-noun phrase. And there are grammatical rules for that.

The following titles are all grammatically correct.

  • Dream of Atlantis
  • Dreams of Atlantis
  • Dreaming of Atlantis
  • Dreams of the Atlantis
  • The Dreams of Atlantis
  • The Dreams of the Atlantis
  • A Dream of Atlantis

The first title is like the “telegraphese” Janus mentioned. The others are all grammatically correct.

I have to ask:

  • Who or what is dreaming?
  • Is someone (or something) dreaming of a thing called Atlantis?
  • Is Atlantis a person (or thing) that is having dreams?
  • One dream?
  • Many dreams?

You have to decide that first. Then you can choose the correct grammar to express your intended meaning.


I agree with what lukejanicke said in his or her answer as far as it goes. However, having done quite a bit of research on this question (see here), I would add this: yes, the writer needs to decide what to say first, then choose the article. But the issue can also be approached from the perspective of the reader: when I read a title, the various choices for the article placement have certain effects on my reading of it. What kinds of effect are these? Indeed, this is actually the more basic question, because presumably the writer's decision will depend on what sort of effects he or she wishes to impart on the readers.

True, the question is complex because much will depend on the context. But the fact that it is a title does provide for certain advantages as far as analysis. After all, the title is presumably the first thing the reader reads of the text, and we can't assume the reader will know anything else about the work except the title at that time. Therefore it seems we should be able to say something about what effect the placement of articles has on the interpretation of the title upon first reading. This initial interpretation is subject to revision once the actual text is read, but the initial reading of the title is still of great interest, since it will affect how we approach the main text, at least in the beginning—not to speak of the fact that it will affect our decision on whether to read the rest of the text at all. A writer will want to take all of this into account: how the title will be read upon first encounter, and how it will be reinterpreted as the reader progresses with the text. Clearly, given the information we are given about Dream of Atlantis, we will only be able to do the former—but that's already pretty interesting.

Here I'll deal with a piece of 'low lying fruit': the effect of adding an article in front of Atlantis in the Dream of Atlantis family of titles.

What makes the analysis a bit easier in this case is that names of individual islands and continents normally don't get an article (except the names of groups of islands like the Scilly Isles or the Orkneys, and except names of islands that have an of-phrase in them, such as the Isle of Man). The mythical continent of Atlantis is not an exception, and its name is used without an article, see e.g. here.

Therefore, saying the Atlantis would signal that the word is in fact not referring directly to the mythical continent, but probably to something else that's called Atlantis, like a ship. (Interestingly, though the Space Shuttle named Atlantis is usually referred to without the definite article, see e.g. here, sometimes the definite article is used, like here.)

The indefinite article, Dream of an Atlantis, would most naturally cause this to be read as 'Dream of a society with characteristics traditionally attributed to the culture that supposedly inhabited the mythical island of Atlantis'.

And omitting the article altogether leaves it more ambiguous; after all, this is a title, and we can expect the writer to try to do something symbolic. For example, see the discussion of the title of the novel Tropic of Cancer here. The author Henry Miller intended that title to be a wordplay; he does not ultimately intend it to refer to its usual meaning of 'the circle of latitude at 23°26′12.6″ N'. True, it is unlikely any reader would be able to guess the intended meaning of the author's wordplay before reading the book (and, frankly, quite possibly even after reading it). But that was Miller's intention: to make it a bit mysterious, because the literal meaning would be really strange given what the novel is about. And Miller was super-ambitious as far as the literary impact he wished to have (see e.g. here).

So if when we see Dream of Atlantic, we will think that Atlantic probably refers to the mythical continent (and probably more specifically to its utopian civilization). However, we will be ready to revise this opinion if it turns out not to fit the content of the text, and look for some other sort of symbolism.

As far as the word dream, all I'll say is that here opportunities for ambiguity are even greater, since that word can also be interpreted as a verb.

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