Zero Article

Some nouns and noun phrases are used with no articles preceding them. In this article, we will learn about them.

What Is Zero Article in English?

What is Zero Article in English?

Zero article is a term used in English grammar to refer to the absence of an article (either definite or indefinite) before a noun. In other words, it is the absence of any article at all.

Why Do We Use Zero Articles?

Sometimes it is not necessary to use an article before a noun or noun phrase. In these cases, we do not use any articles and call it 'zero articles. ' Check out the examples:

I want to call Maria.

Let's have dinner outside.

I love football.

Zero Article: Uses

Usually, we use zero articles to make a general statement (generalization) or a categorical statement. But this is not always the case. Let us discuss it in more details:

Mass Nouns

Mass nouns, also known as non-count or uncountable nouns, typically do not require an indefinite article ('a' or 'an') before them. This is because uncountable nouns refer to things that cannot be counted or quantified in discrete units. However, the definite article 'the' can be used before uncountable nouns to indicate specificity or to refer to a particular instance of the noun. Here are the most important groups of mass nouns that are not preceded by articles:

  • languages

You can not use articles 'a, an' before names of languages, but if the word 'language' is used after the name, you can use the article 'the' before it. Check out the examples:

Russian, English, German, Italian, etc.

They speak Russian. (Not 'They speak the/a/an Russian.')

I think English is a nice language. (Not 'I think the/a/an English is a nice language.')

I like to learn the Polish language.

  • meals

You can not use the articles 'a, an' before meals. But if there is an adjective, a phrase, or even a clause that describes a meal (whether used before or after the meal), you can use the article 'the'. Check out the examples:

dinner, breakfast, lunch, etc.

Let's have lunch together. (Not 'Let's have the/a/an lunch together.')

Breakfast is served at the hotel. (Not 'The/a/anbreakfast is served at the hotel.')

The dinner that was served at the party was wonderful.

In this example, the 'that-clause' is describing the word 'dinner'; as a result, you can use the article 'the' before 'dinner'.

  • academic subjects

physics, math, history, etc.

History is my favorite subject at school. (Not 'The/a/an history is my favorite subject at school.')

Physics seems hard to me. (Not 'The/a/an physics seems hard to me.')

  • games and sports

football, basketball, rugby, tennis, etc.

She plays football very well. (Not 'She plays the/a/an football very well.')

Hanna used to play tennis. (Not 'Hanna used to play the/a/an tennis.')

Proper Nouns

proper names do not take articles

Proper nouns are definite on their own, so there is no need to use an article to define them. Here are the most common proper nouns that are used without articles:

  • names

Hanna, Fluffy, Harry, Oxford street, etc.

Sam is standing over there. (Not 'The/ a/ an Sam is standing over there.')

My mother calls my cat Fluffy. (Not 'My mother calls my cat the/ a/an fluffy.')

  • places

cities, most countries, continents, lakes, etc.

I have always wanted to go on safari in Africa. (Not 'I always wanted to go on safari in the Africa)

Lake Michigan is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. (Not 'the Lake Michigan is one of the largest...)

  • days of the week and months

Monday, November, January, etc.

We have English class on Sunday. (Not 'We have English class on the/ a/ an Sunday.')

I was born in June. (Not 'I was born in the/a/ an June.')

Newspaper Headlines

'Newspaper headlines' do not need an article to become definite. Do not use articles in newspaper headlines. For example:

Local High School Wins State Championship in Football

Men Walk on Moon

Notices and User Guides

User guides (also known as user manuals) help you figure out how to use a particular device or service. They may include some warnings as well, which are called notices.
Whenever you are dealing with notices or user guides, there is no need to use articles.

Insert battery. (Not 'Insert the/ a/ an battery.')

Put container in 30°C. (Not 'Put the/a/ an container in 30°C.')

Means of Transport

When you want to talk about the type of transportation you use, there is no need to use articles after the preposition 'by.' Check out the examples for more clarification:

We went to the festival by car. (Not 'We went to the festival by the/ a/ an car.')

Hanna walked on foot to get to the river. (Not 'Hanna walked on the/ a/ an foot to get to the river.')

*Let us take a bus. ( Not 'Let us take bus.')

In this example, the preposition 'by' is not used. So we must use an article.

Abstract Nouns

Some abstract nouns can be preceded by articles and some cannot. Compare the examples below:

Happiness is not by chance but by choice.

In this example, we cannot say 'the happiness.'

Listen to the music, please!

Look at the fabulous art!

Common Time and Place Expressions

Some time and place expressions are fixed and we cannot change them by adding articles between them. The following examples are always used with zero articles:

The man was in jail for many years.

I cannot talk on the phone at midnight. It is a rule in our house.

Tip!

When we are referring to a place in an institutional sense we do not use articles. However, American English is different from British English, and sometimes in the American style, we are allowed to use articles. Check these examples out:

I was in the hospital.

The sentence is written in American English style.

I was in hospital.

The sentence is written in British English style.

They studied at college.

Mat was at school.

Before Some Determiners (any, some, my, this)

We cannot use an article with some other words that specify a noun (determiner), e.g. any, some, my, her, this, that.

Her friends threw her a birthday party. (Not the her friends threw her a birthday party)

This cake tastes delicious. (Not the this cake tastes delicious)

Review

Sometimes using an article is not necessary. So we do not use any articles which in this case, we are using zero articles. Here are the occasions which require zero articles.

  • mass nouns
  • proper nouns
  • newspaper headlines
  • notice and user guides
  • means of transport
  • abstract nouns
  • common time and place expressions

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