I have encountered the following sentence in Macmillan Dictionary.

He was mayor from 2010 to 2014, if my memory serves me correctly.

But other grammar books say that we should omit the article "a/an" only after the verbs describing a change of state.) such as "He was elected mayor last year. He was appointed mayor last year." But in the Macmillan sentence, "was" is not a verb describing a change of state. It is just like some other sentence such as

He was a professor from 2010 to 2014.

Can anybody teach me whether the dictionary sentence is grammatically correct or incorrect, and present me with some evidence which prove that your explanation is right? I'd appreciate it.

  • 1
    It is correct and 'He was a mayor from 2010 to 2014' is incorrect (certainly at the level of idiomaticity) if one is speaking about an office already referred to or deducible from other context. Would you consider 'He was a president from 2010 to 2014' standard in most contexts? This is the null article (almost always conflated with the zero article, and not recognised in its own right; the lack of a decent analysis hereabouts until fairly recently has given rise to some misleading 'rules' about correct article usage) in operation.... Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 11:24
  • 1
    More about this courtesy of Peter Master and @Lawrence over at ELL (though it belongs here). // Here, note that 'he was a professor / a taxi-driver / a politician / a minister / a vicar ...' is not specific within the occupation, and hence requires the indefinite article. But 'He was king / president / mayor here / [the] Minister of Magic / [the] Head of Science at Bash St Academy' is far more specifying, needing the definite article or above (the null). Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 11:33
  • The article is not needed. In "he was mayor", "mayor" is considered a noun phrase, a predicative complement here, just as it is a PC with verbs like "become, appoint, elect". NPs of this kind are called 'bare role' NPs - bare in the sense that they do not contain a determiner.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 11:34
  • @BillJ As Master explains, after Chesterman (1991), a decent analysis needs to consider two different types of determinerless NPs. Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 11:42
  • The OP's question is very simple: is the depictive PC in "He was mayor" as grammatically acceptable as the resultative PC in "He was elected mayor"? And it clearly is, for the reason I gave. And it's decent.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 11:56

2 Answers 2


[This is an unresearched answer, based on my own experiences/thoughts. Within the guidelines of this site it may not therefore be appropriate, but I hope that it at least helps the OP]

"Mayor" is more of a title than a noun, and as such it often appears without an article. "King", "Queen", "President", and I'm sure many other similar terms, are treated the same way.

To make some example sentences, I'm going to talk about my school history teacher.

It sounds unusual (to my ear) for me to say to someone random:

My history teacher was mayor in 1998

because there is no context around "mayor" - there are many mayors across the world, which one was he?

It also sounds unusual to me to say:

My history teacher was a mayor in 1998

It sounds completely normal to say and of:

My history teacher was mayor of my town in 1998

My history teacher was Mayor of Canterbury in 1998

My history teacher was the Mayor of Canterbury

However, once the fact that he was mayor of my town / Canterbury has been established, that could be done away with in the rest of the conversation:

Me: My history teacher was Mayor of Canterbury

Becky: While he was your history teacher?

Me: No. He taught me in 1996, was mayor in 1998 (if my memory serves me correctly) and then taught me again in 1999 and 2000.

The excerpt you've posted from Macmillan dictionary sounds like it is part of a conversation like this, i.e. where he was mayor of was already established prior to the excerpt.


You cannot tell with any certainty without considering the context. Basically, it depends on whether "mayor" (or "president") is known from context to refer to a specific job, or simply a category.

"He was a state representative from 1972 to 1976, a major from 1976 to 1982, and a congressman from 1982 to 1994."

(If I wanted to spend the time I'd contrive a similar sentence for "president", but some folks here would pick it apart and miss the point.)

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