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I've been having this discussion for a few months now: should I write "the molecule has been identified as new anti-inflammatory drug" or "the molecule has been identified as a new anti-inflammatory drug"?

I believe the second option is correct, but English is not my native language, and I can't find a rule to justify my opinion. Is there any rule that states the requirement of the article?

Sorry if this is really obvious, and thanks in advance.

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You are correct. Our use of an adjective does not remove the need for a determiner (articles: "a", "an", or "the"; possessives: "my", "his", etc.; or demonstratives: "this", "that", etc.).

To put it simply, we always need a determiner unless:

  • It a general noun with a number. "Three cats are outside."
  • It is a name. "Sam is outside." (And some names need "the", like "the United States")
  • It is a general, plural/non-count noun. "Cats are cute."

All other cases need a determiner, so if you don't have "my", "this", or such, you must have "a/an" for a general singular noun.

  • You can skip the first qualification since numbers are determiners. However, the list isn't quite complete. E.g. consider: "I am king of this castle." - the word king is just a bare noun (no determiner) and doesn't fit any of your exclusions, and yet the sentence isn't grammatically problematic. It might be better to (positively) answer the question with reference to the specifics of the OP's sentence, rather than (negatively) saying that the sentence fails to meet an exhaustive list of exceptions. – Lawrence Aug 16 '18 at 11:00
  • I included the numbers separately from the determiners because, unlike other determiners, they can be combined. Articles, possessives, and demonstratives are mutually exclusive. "The my car" is incorrect. "This his cat" is incorrect. "My two cats", however, is correct. – Drazex Aug 16 '18 at 11:03
  • @Lawrence As for "king of this castle", that's more of a fossilized exception, and rather archaic to my ears. I would probably say, "I am the king of this castle." As for answering positively, the list of concrete cases where you should use a determiner is far more exhaustive than where you shouldn't. – Drazex Aug 16 '18 at 11:05
  • No, not a list. Perhaps I can rephrase. Using a checklist carries the risk of the list being non-exhaustive. Further, it begs the question of how items got onto the list in the first place - which boils down to "that's just the way it is". It would be better to explain what the bare noun phrase represents and why it doesn't fit the sentence. – Lawrence Aug 16 '18 at 16:50
  • One should always use a determiner to increase the clarity of a noun. The only cases where we would not, is where the noun is both general and plural/uncountable. I'm not sure why you have a hang up with this, as it is the standard way to present it. For example, here's the article on determiners from the British Council (for learning English): learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/… It states simply that "a determiner comes before the noun phrase", and then provides a single exception of when it does not (general plural/uncount nouns). – Drazex Aug 17 '18 at 4:06

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