(*An) astute businessman though he was, P was capable of extreme recklessness

(*The) actual perpetrators though they were, the criminals never admitted their guilt in court

Why are the articles not allowed in this structure?

  • 4
    I sure wish I knew.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 14:54
  • 5
    Me too. That's the thing about idioms; not only don't they make sense literally, their rules don't make sense grammatically. The word arbitrary comes to mind. Repeatedly. Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 15:09
  • 2
    Try undoing the inversion: Though they were the actual perpetrators versus Though they were actual perpetrators. Ain't the same thing. And I do not agree with the first, necessarily. If you uninvert it, it requires an. Though he was an actual businessman. So...It's an editor's choice.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 16:10
  • 4
    Who says the articles are 'not allowed'? I would have thought the second one needed it, if the criminals were the perpetrators of a particular crime. It's a clumsily-worded sentence anyway. Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 16:40
  • 1
    @cruthers - As I said, it's clumsily worded and I wouldn't have expressed it that way. Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 16:51

1 Answer 1


It appears to me the examples you have presented are cases of the 'zero article'.

If the noun is countable and plural (e.g.., "research studies") or uncountable (e.g., "information") and it is being used in a nonspecific or generic way, no article is used.

Here are some more specifics:

No article is used when a plural countable noun is generic or nonspecific.

  • I bought new pens and pencils at the store. (general, not specific ones)
  • Cats have big eyes that can see in the dark. (cats in general, all of them)
  • Babies cry a lot. (babies in general, all of them)

{Notice that an article does not appear before 'pens', 'pencils', 'Cats' or 'Babies'.}

No article is used when a noncount noun is generic or nonspecific.

  • I bought milk and rice at the store. (generic reference)
  • We were assigned homework in this class. (generic reference)
  • There has been previous research on the topic. (generic reference)

{Notice that an article does not appear before 'milk', 'rice', 'homework' or 'research'.

[Reference: Walden University]

I hope this helps.

  • The work by Master on both zero and null articles (qv) is worth reading. He claims that the missing articles in 'We had Ø₁ chicken for tea' and 'He was crowned Ø₂ King' are very different entities. OP's examples would be analysed as using the zero and null articles respectively (note which overt articles they are 'replacing'). Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 17:05
  • he notion 'countable/uncountable' is problematic. However, I share your intuition that the usages in question have something to do with using the nouns in question attributively/adjectivally (not far from your 'generic'. The trouble is finding the evidence: so far I have been unable to find evidence one way or the other in the Oxford English grammar. "zero article" only deals with countability. Could the usage have arisen mundanely: nobody noticed the dropping of articles in these contexts - it just caught on: not allowed/allowed but standard/non-standard.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 15:53

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