I am well aware that the usage of, or the omission of, the definite article "the" has been a frequently asked question, here and elsewhere. I have read up on existing questions on this matter. (But I could have missed some. So if this question has indeed been asked before, forgive me.)

My question concerns a specific case of article omission. It is my understanding that the definite article can/should be omitted before certain common nouns. For example:

Both husband and wife received serious injuries.


In the mirror, daughter sees the future, and mother the past.

The second example is more complex, because the common noun "mother" may be used as a proper noun. AFAIK, "daughter" can't.

But come to think of it, I can't articulate the exact rules that govern this kind of omission.

The aforementioned site states the rule as follows:

Before common nouns when they go in pairs

It doesn't really satisfy my inquisitiveness, because it's not a dictionary, and seems like a site for English learners. What kind of common nouns? Any specific rules? None of the other sites on article omission that I have found has this rule.

My question, in sum, is multi-fold.

  1. Are there more authoritative sources that talk about this issue?
  2. Are there more specific and detailed rules? Does the pair have to exhibit symmetry in their positions and/or functions in the sentence?
  3. What is it called in linguistics, if it has a name?
  4. In sentences where this rule applies, can we not omit, namely keep, the definite article? Basically, in these cases, is it "the article can be omitted" or "the article should be omitted"? (I am leaning towards "can be omitted".) Also would a sentence that keeps the articles read verbose? And what kind of nuances would people say are caused by keeping the articles? E.g. "Both the husband and the wife received serious injuries" v.s. "Both husband and wife received serious injuries."
  5. This might be another can of worms, but why can't "daughter" and "son" be proper nouns, as "Mom", "Father", or can they?
  • Yes, daughter and son and uncle and aunt and gramps and grandma, etc. can all be used as names (proper nouns), usually if talking directly to such a person: 'Go to your room, Son' but I am not sure if 'Today Brother has no homework' is quite as kosher. Nov 4, 2017 at 2:20
  • How about: The fire destroyed both house and vineyard, both weed and flower.
    – Xanne
    Nov 4, 2017 at 2:56
  • These seem to be cases of the null article (rather than the zero article) usage. For some reason, this is covered only on ELL. Nov 4, 2017 at 12:53
  • 2
    Possible duplicate of "With pen and paper" <-- Why don't we need an article here?. @Araucaria has posted a fine article dealing with bare coordination in at least three places on ELU. Nov 4, 2017 at 13:05
  • @Edwin I knew there were plenty of possible duplicates but I left it to another to be able to identify and locate them. Thanks Nov 4, 2017 at 15:29


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