I am confused about why we say a boy and a girl. can I say a boy and girl instead of adding the A article in front of both?

closed as off-topic by Centaurus, Edwin Ashworth, tchrist May 9 '18 at 2:48

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  • your question suits our English Language Learners site better. – Centaurus May 8 '18 at 17:18
  • The second article is not always dropped. But, if it is dropped, it's presence is "assumed." – Jason Bassford May 8 '18 at 19:05

You can drop the second or subsequent definite or indefinite articles in a list of two or items, except when it is necessary to avoid ambiguity. A boy and girl. A cat, dog, and horse. An egg and spoon (note the article is 'an' because the first item starts with a vowel). The black cat and dog when both are black; the black cat and the dog when the colour of the dog is unknown, and vice versa.

in left foreground a cow and horse rest and beyond a horse urinates (British Musem description of painting)

The simulator, which is distributed by Virtalis Ltd., allows students to perform rectal palpation of a cow and horse via a computerized haptic device. (Calgary Veterinary College)

the grounds growing up to brush and weeds; and, strangest of all, a cow and horse pasturing therein. From all appearances I should judge the horse had pastured there all summer. (October 13, 1868 Hillsdale Standard “Letter to the Editor”)

We see here a cow and horse recognized with the model position, shape parameters and joint angles estimated (Machine Vision Unit, Edinburgh University)

Asks about Te Hoterene's debts; suggests that he pay with a cow and horse (New Zealand Landcare)

A horse and cow graze on the triangular piece of land bounded by Old Westford, Graniteville and Davis roads in Chelmsford. (The Lowell Sun - Lowell, Massachusetts)

  • I wouldn't say 'In the field were a cow and horse' is idiomatic. – Edwin Ashworth May 8 '18 at 18:16
  • Found you some cows and horses. – Michael Harvey May 8 '18 at 19:01
  • But Google Ngrams show at least a 4:1 favouring of double article usage. 'A boy and girl' hints strongly at close company whereas 'a boy and a girl' is unmarked; horses and cows don't naturally associate. – Edwin Ashworth May 8 '18 at 21:16

The second article can be dropped when there is sufficient connection between the two nouns. And whether there is such a connection or not will depend on the context. Here is the relevant section from Collins COBUILD English Guides: Articles (p. 71):

Articles can be left out:

• when two nouns (or adjectives), both acting as head of a noun group, are joined together with 'and' or 'or'; the second head can be without its article. This happens with both the definite and the indefinite article.

They had enhanced the reliability and quality of radio reception.
...a coffee cup and saucer.
You can order traveller's cheques through a local bank or travel agent.

You don't have to leave out the second article; you can say 'a coffee cup and a saucer'. But if you do leave it out, the two nouns must be closely related in meaning; you couldn't say 'There was a matchbox and jacket on the table'.

The boldfaced emphasis in the last sentence is mine.

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