Could you explain to me why there is no article before «parent» but there is the indefinite article before «meeting»? Is possible to use the article in the first case or omit it in the second?

Say whether you feel the following remark/sentences are okay, too formal or too informal <...> 2 (Parent to another parent at a school parents meeting): How many offspring do you have at the school?

This is taken from an exercise in the book «English Vocabulary in Use».

Thank you for your time.

  • It's almost headlinese (the phrase in parentheses is not a sentence, and would be replaced by one in formal writing). But dropping the 'a' would lead to a garden-path situation. They seem to choose to use 'semi-headlinese'. And the question 'How many offspring ...' is at best quirky. // Answering the question the book poses is not on-topic here; we're not given enough information to judge correct formality targets, and even if we were there would doubtless be differences of opinion. Mar 27, 2018 at 18:26
  • @ Edwin Ashworth, thank you for the comment. I revised the information on the articles' functions and did not find the explanation. The phrase in the brackets must be used like a headline, like you said, that is why we can omit the article. But I do not understand still why it is used in the second case then. What do you mean by garden-path? Does the article give any additional meaning to the noun? As for the question, this is an example to show too-formal-ness, you are right it is weird.
    – Logan Xav
    Mar 28, 2018 at 14:11

1 Answer 1


A parent is a countable noun so, you can use either the indefinite or the definite article before it. One more thing, you should say-at school instead of at the school.

  • This is not my sentence. This is how it was written in the textbook.
    – Logan Xav
    Mar 27, 2018 at 15:41
  • Irrespective of whether its your sentence or it was taken from some textbook, for me personally its not correct. A countable noun requires either the indefinite or the definite article.
    – Beqa
    Mar 27, 2018 at 18:39

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