Are singular non-proper countable nouns always preceded by a determiner (a, the, some, any, this, that)?

ORIGINAL QUESTION: "Dose singular no-proper [Are singular common] nouns always preceded by an article (a, the) or are there some situations that this is not true?"

  • 1
    Can you give some examples to explain what you mean to ask?
    – Kris
    Oct 30, 2012 at 4:46
  • @Reza: I don't know what you mean by "in a wired way", but I've already answered the original question. The answer to the new question is very brief: A determiner of some sort is almost always required. Very informally, {Bike/Car/Bus/Train} is how I get to work is acceptable spoken and written American English.
    – user21497
    Oct 30, 2012 at 9:32
  • Okay, edit #9 is acceptable. Thank you, whoever did it.
    – user21497
    Oct 30, 2012 at 9:35

4 Answers 4


As a rule of thumb, you can get a so-called "bare noun" when the noun represents a collection of indeterminate items. So for example, consider the pair:

(a) I saw some children playing and some adults going to work.

(b) I saw children playing and adults going to work.

Case (a) uses "some", which you may be used to considering as an 'indeterminate' article. In case (b), no article is used at all.

Now, although "indeterminate", the crucial thing about using 'some' in (a) is that it implies that the children/adults could be specified. In case (b), by using bare nouns, you imply that the children/adults are basically unspecifiable. It would sound a little odd to say, for example:

"??I saw adults going to work. I recognised them as Peter and Jim from next door."

whereas it would sound more natural with the article:

"I saw some adults going to work. I recognised them as..."

Now, this rule of thumb extends to various "set phrases" where it is unusual to specify the particular item in question. For example:

I travelled by plane.

Here you don't generally care about the specific plane. Notice that if you do, re-wording in a way that uses the article becomes more natural:

*I travelled by plane whose flight number was 731.

I travelled on a plane whose flight number was 731.

  • -1 As it stands this answer does not address the question (in its current iteration).
    – GoDucks
    Jan 9, 2016 at 15:30
  • It sort of does, doesn't it? -- the questioner asks if you can get countable nouns without a determiner, and the thrust of the answer is "yes you can, and these are broadly the circumstances when you do". Relevant extensions/improvements are welcome, though... Jan 10, 2016 at 15:40

No, not always. There is a feature of language known as anarthrousness in which an article is absent where it might be expected. For example, British political parties have annual conferences. When speakers address them, they don’t say, ‘I recommend to the conference . . .’ They say ‘I recommend to conference . . .’ In British courts, barristers are referred to as ‘counsel for the defence’ and ‘counsel for the prosecution’ and not ‘the counsel for the defence’ or ‘the counsel for the prosecution'. Other words which can show this feature include congress, parliament and school.

In one particular instance there is a difference between British and American English. In the UK, patients ‘go (in)to hospital’, whereas in the US, I believe, they 'go to the hospital’. The article can be used before hospital in British English, but only in contexts not involving a patient.


When I go grocery shopping, I drive {a/the/my/her/our/that/any available} car.

This is an example of a sentence in which a common count noun, car, can be used without the article. In its place, however, there is another determiner: a possessive pronoun (my/her/our) or an adjective phrase (any available).

I commute to work by {bus/train/bicycle}. There's no article, but there is a determiner, by. And in the preceding sentence, there's the negative particle no, a determiner, instead of an article.

Finally, and very informally, {Bike/Car/Bus/Train} is how I get to work.

The short answer to your question is that there are some situations in which singular common count nouns are not preceded by a/an/the.

  • Just for completeness, the first sentence, "I drive car," is completely alien to British English. It requires an article or some other determiner.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 30, 2012 at 8:16
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach: The original question was "Dose singular no-proper nouns always preceded by an article (a, the) or are there some situations that this is not true?" "I drive car" is completely alien to American English too. It requires an article or some other determiner. My first sentence offers 7 determiners: {a/the/my/her/our/that/any available} but not "I drive car". It says that the article a or the is not always required, but that "In its place, however, there is another determiner". This Q's been edited >5 times. It makes my answer look absurd now.
    – user21497
    Oct 30, 2012 at 9:05
  • Ah. It appears I misunderstood the {choose|any|alternative} syntax as well. I wasn't expecting a mixture of BNF and set theory!
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 30, 2012 at 9:18
  • Sorry that my answer wasn't as lucidly expressed as I imagined, Andrew.
    – user21497
    Oct 30, 2012 at 9:34
  • This answer does not address the question.
    – GoDucks
    Jan 9, 2016 at 15:58

The term you're looking for, to describe a word of this kind that is needed with a singular count noun, is determiner. Wikipedia has a good article about the use of determiners.

  • Though the term "article" is common enough in informal usage when you're not engaging in a stricter analysis that separates constituents such as determiners, quantifiers, specifiers etc. Oct 30, 2012 at 6:15
  • 1
    David Wallace is correct when he says that the proper term is determiner. There are only two possible articles: a[n]/the; both are determiners, as are all quantifiers, specifiers, and pre-nominal pronouns and adjectives: "A determiner is a word, phrase or affix that occurs together with a noun or noun phrase"..."Common kinds of determiners include definite and indefinite articles (like the English the and a[n]), demonstratives (like this and that), possessive determiners (like my and their), and quantifiers (like many, few and several)". link
    – user21497
    Oct 30, 2012 at 9:24

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