As I was going through Leviathan I realized that in some places Hobbes left an article before covenant, despite not placing the word in quotation marks:

1. "God is King of all the Earth by his Power: but of his chosen people, he is King by Covenant."

2. "Again, one of the Contractors, may deliver the Thing contracted for on his part, and leave the other to perform his part at some determinate time after, and in the mean time be trusted; and then the Contract on his part, is called PACT, or COVENANT:"

3. "For Justice, that is to say, Performance of Covenant, and giving to every man his own, is a Dictate of the Law of Nature."

In the second example covenant has all the letters capitalized, is it a substitute of quotation marks? If so, I still don't understand why Hobbes left out the in the first sentence and a in the third.

In other places he placed a before covenant:

4. "And for that cause, in buying, and selling, and other acts of Contract, A Promise is equivalent to a Covenant; and therefore obligatory."

Are all the four sentences correct? According to the research I did covenant is countable, it should be preceded by an article anytime it is in singular.

  • God is the(?) King
    – SP999
    Jun 28, 2019 at 14:10

2 Answers 2


The article seems to be left off for several different reasons.

  1. Why do we leave off the in "by covenant"? For the same reason that we leave off the in "traveled by train." We're not talking about a specific train; we're talking about a generic means of travel. We can use this construction even if there is a specific train or covenant involved — I can say I traveled by train to New York and be grammatical, even though I clearly took one specific train. Similarly, even though Hobbes is talking about a specific covenant, he drops the article in this sentence because he intends to reference a generic means of becoming king.
  2. These are definitions in 17th century English. Hobbes generally uses either uppercase or all capitals for words when he defines them. He seems to be leaving off the article in these definitions, even though we'd put definitely put it in today. You really can't judge 17th century grammar by today's standards. Hobbes seems to be inconsistent about whether he puts in or leaves off the article. Lots of nouns, like duty, can be both uncountable and countable, and it's possible that Hobbes is treating covenant as one of these.
  3. Again, as in (1), Hobbes is using covenant generically. Unlike (1), this does seem strange if you evaluate it in terms of today's grammar. Many nouns, like duty, are uncountable when they are used generically, and countable when they are used for specific instance of a duty. I suspect Hobbes is treating covenant as one of these. I don't know whether this is specific to Hobbes, or occurred more broadly in 17th century Englich.
  4. Covenant is a countable noun, and you should generally put an article before it. There is nothing at all unusual about this usage, the way there is about (2) and (3).

Nothing is weird here. You didn't look carefully into your own research. "covenant" can be an uncountable noun:


noun [ C or U ] UK ​ /ˈkʌvənənt/ US ​ ​

LAW a part of a formal written agreement in which it is stated what must or must not be done, or in which someone promises to do or pay something:

The lease contains a covenant that no animals can be kept on the property.

Any loss of rent may be claimed as damages for breach of covenant (= failure to do as promised).

See also

deed of covenant

restrictive covenant

  • Where is this blockquote pasted from? It does not seem to be from the research I did, dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/covenant According to Cambridge dictionary "covenant" is countable.
    – John Smith
    Jun 28, 2019 at 18:07
  • 1
    @Jerzy Brzóska. You just need to scroll down till the end. But there's a quick way for you to confirm this. You can copy some words from my quotation(e.g. "Any loss of rent may"), open the web page, press ctrl + F, paste and return.
    – SP999
    Jun 28, 2019 at 18:25

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