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I saw this sentence in a book:

Tom, 45, and Julia, 40, are husband and wife.

It sounded natural to me not to use the article "a" before "husband and wife". But I'd like to know the grammatical explanation.

  • This is all tangled up in the messy topic of when to use (or not use) "the indefinite article". A lot has to do with context. – Hot Licks Apr 9 at 21:03
  • Possible duplicate of "is" or "are" for x and y? – Neeku Apr 11 at 15:46
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It's an idiom.

In idioms articles are often omitted.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

 idiom

 husband and wife

: a married couple

// They were husband and wife for almost 60 years.

And have a look at this.

It adds some statistics to the previous information.

By the way, according to Oxford English Dictionary it is a hyphenated adjective:

"husband-and-wife

ADJECTIVE

Relating to or involving a husband and wife; consisting of a husband and wife."

In this case there's no problem of using or not using the indefinite article here because adjectives as predicatives are used without articles.

  • Oh that was a quick answer, many thanks. I had looked it up on google but never as an idiom. It makes sense now. – ESL Teacher Apr 9 at 20:39
  • The fact that it's "husband and wife" has little to do with it. The same issues would arise with "doctor and patient". – Hot Licks Apr 9 at 21:06
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    I know M-W defines husband and wife as an idiom, but I'd dispute this, as it doesn't fit M-W's own definition of idiom: the meaning is readily deducible from the words, and the grammar isn't peculiar to this one expression [as @HotLicks notes, and I'd add "friend and foe", "master and servant", "brother and sister", "predator and prey", etc]. The reason for no determiner is more to do with it being problematic to have a determiner just for the first element of a pair of nouns, and too wordy as "a husband and his wife". – Chappo Apr 10 at 0:04
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    Perhaps the are nouns used as adjectives, comparable to “black and blue” in “my knees were black and blue.” – Xanne Apr 10 at 3:26
  • However, if you were going on to say more about these people than just stating their relationship, you could say something like Tom and Julia are a husband and wife who live in New York. – Kate Bunting Apr 10 at 8:37

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