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Articles in the English language are the definite article the and the indefinite articles a and an. Use of the definite article implies that the speaker assumes the listener knows the identity of the noun's referent (because it is obvious, because it is common knowledge, or because it was mentioned in the same sentence or an earlier sentence). Use of an indefinite article implies that the speaker assumes the listener does not have to be told the identity of the referent. In some noun phrases, no article is used.

Zero Article

The term zero article refers to noun phrases that contain no articles, definite or indefinite. English, like many other languages, does not require an article in plural noun phrases with a generic reference, a reference to a general class of things. English also uses no article before a mass noun or a plural noun if the reference is indefinite, a thing that is not specifically identifiable in context.

For example:

  • Generic mass noun: Happiness is contagious.
  • Generic plural noun: Cars have accelerators.
  • Generic plural noun: They want equal rights.
  • Indefinite mass noun: I drink coffee.
  • Indefinite plural noun: I saw cars.

In English, the zero article rather than the indefinite article is often used with plurals and mass nouns (although the word "some" can function like an indefinite plural article).

The definite article is sometimes omitted before some words for specific institutions, such as prison, school, and (in standard non-American dialects) hospital.

  • She is in hospice.
  • The criminal went to prison.
  • I'm going to school.

The article may also be omitted between a preposition and the word bed when describing activities typically associated with beds.

  • He is lying in bed.
  • They went to bed.

Where a particular location is meant, or when describing activities that are not typical, the definite article is used.

  • She was dismissed from the hospital.
  • The plumber went to the prison to fix the pipes.
  • We were jumping on the bed.

The zero article is also used in instructions and manuals. In such cases, the references in the text are all definite, and thus no distinction between definite and indefinite has to be made.

  • Grasp drumstick.
  • Place knife between thigh and body; cut through skin to joint. Separate thigh and drumstick at joint.

The zero article is used with meals.

  • I have just finished dinner.
  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

The zero article is used when describing calendar years.

  • I was born in 1978.

The zero article is used before titles

  • The Board appointed him Captain.
License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Source: wikipedia (1, 2)

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