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  #1 (permalink)  
Unread Jan 10th, 2013, 04:31 am
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Default Omission of articles by native speakers

Hello,
I have noticed that native speakers, for some inexplicable reason, tend to (apparently randomly) omit indefinite articles before countable nouns. What is more, using an indefinite article in front of every singular countable noun makes our speech sound awkward.
How shall we (and can we) ever master the art of doing it or are these just mistakes made by native speakers which occur so frequently it makes us believe that kind of speech is natural?

Examples of such omissions:

1. 1f somebody is successful that is reason enough for me to listen to their advice.

2. A student of mine appeared with bottle of medicine.

Last edited by Beatrix : Jan 11th, 2013 at 02:46 pm. Reason: I added "is" in one of the sentences
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Unread Jan 10th, 2013, 06:29 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

The first example isn't "random" - it would be incorrect with the article. When a singular countable noun is used with enough, there are two possibilities :

a) use enough of a : That would be enough of a reason to...
b) place enough after the noun without the article - as in your sentence.

Another example :
Lincoln was historian and economist ENOUGH to know that a substantial portion of this wealth had....

Obviously, if the noun is uncountable (relatively common) or plural (again rare), you don't need an article anyway, whether enough is placed before or after the noun :

...and had talent ENOUGH to fill the roles competently
(They) insist that there has not been time ENOUGH to institute reforms
He doesn't have sense ENOUGH to come out of the rain.
The disappearance of his will was proof ENOUGH of that
...with just about room ENOUGH for a properly performed hundred-and-eighty-degree turn
He simply didn't have funds ENOUGH to match your bet.


In all these cases enough could also be placed in front of the noun -eg, ..and had enough talent to fill the roles.... Placing it afterwards adds a little more emphasis.

The second example is, as it stands, incorrect and unlikely to be said. Much more likely is that the "a" was there, but so reduced phonetically that you didn't perceive it. I suspect this may be the case at other times when you wonder why the article was omitted too. Because English is a stress-timed language, many unstressed syllables are so reduced in quality that they are barely "there" at all and therefore difficult to perceive. This would certainly be the case with this sentence spoken fairly rapidly - you can hear me saying it if you click here : http://vocaroo.com/i/s1tIw0T31lRN Notice how both the first and second "a" almost disappear, as do the first and second "of". The second vowel of "medicine" (which is unstressed) disappears entirely.

Last edited by susan53 : Jan 10th, 2013 at 10:47 am.
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Unread Jan 11th, 2013, 03:44 pm
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

Thank you so much, susan. I didn't know about that thing with "enough". Maybe the reason I sounded unnatural compared with natives was my putting indefinite articles in wrong places. That could be explanation enough.



Actually, I've come across another sentence where "a" appears to be left out.

"Unlike in the UK where students from around the world are all mixed in together, there is strict separation of domestic and international students’ dorms in China."

Shouldn't there be an "a" before "separation"? Or is "separation" here considered to be some sort of an abstract noun?



Additionally:
The sentence no.2 I quoted earlier now in full:

"It isn’t, of course, that Chinese people are inherently unkind. I could easily cite countless examples of altruism which have directly affected me during my stay in China (a student coming round to my apartment with bottle of medicine she had bought for my cough; an eight-year old girl giving away her umbrella to me in the rain)."


Thanks

Last edited by Beatrix : Jan 11th, 2013 at 05:12 pm.
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Unread Jan 12th, 2013, 04:42 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

Hi Beatrix,

separation is one of many words which can be used either with or without the article. Eg in the sentence : Separation is often prelude to divorce, the indefinite article could be used with any of the three nouns. In general, the more generic the sentence is the more likely the article is to be omitted, though this is a tendency rather than a rule - your sentence is generic (all dorms, everywhere in China) but the article could have been used. If you're talking about one specific event (eg They agreed on a one-month separation), then the article is necessary.

As far as the "bottle of medicine" text is concerned, if this is a written text then it's definitely a mistake - probably a typing error. There's no way bottle can be used in that sentence without "a".
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Unread Jan 12th, 2013, 07:53 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

Thank you susan!
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Unread Feb 20th, 2013, 05:59 pm
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

Hi Susan, here is another written example of (an?) article omission apparently for no reason:

The Lady Galadriel is ruler, with her husband Celeborn, of the Elven kingdom of Lothlorien.


Why isn't there A in front of "ruler"?
Thank you very much


ps. it also has THE in front of Lady Galadriel...why??
pps. can "article omission" be used in generic sense here without "an"?
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Unread Feb 21st, 2013, 04:53 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

1. We've actually dealt with your first question in another thread. Have a look at it as it contains a discussion of other instances where the article is omitted, which might interest you: http://www.eslhq.com/forums/esl-forums/english-questions/use-definite-article-53544/. It's common for the definite article to be omitted with professional titles or positions - eg Barack Obama is (the) President of the United States. What I said in that thread was :

"This type of sentence is typical of journalistic genres - a noun phrase in apposition with (= juxtaposed with and equated to) the name, sometimes with the definite article omitted, sometimes not. Here are some more examples which I found in 2 mins just browsing the BBC News website today :

a) With omission of the definite article

Film critic Roger Ebert said the actor had come across as "sad and pathetic".
Martin Johnson, director of the Thalidomide Trust, told the BBC that ....
Mining Minister Rafael Ramirez said operations could resume within two days of the site being declared safe.
The fighting came as Syrian Prime Minister Wail al-Halqi met Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

b) With the definite article included

The lead researcher Dr Angela Attwood told the BBC...

As you can see, the omission is far more common than the inclusion."

Notice that it's the definite article though, not the indefinite article. the sense of your sentence is : Galadriel and Celeborn are (the) rulers of Lothlorien. Hence your original sentence, with the article added would read : The Lady Galadriel is the ruler, along with etc. Using the indefinite article would suggest an indefinite number of rulers, whereas the sentence is telling us it's a definite quantity - two.

2. The definite article is used with the title "lady" when describing the person. Here are some examples from the press : a) the Daily Telegraph - The Oscar winner said that even though the Lady Thatcher's views were shared by many of her male colleagues in government they escaped ... b) the ITV news website - A handbag carried by the Lady Thatcher, raised £25,000 at auction last year. c) the Daily Mail - as every good leftist knows Al Gore was much more honorable than the Lady Thatcher.

The article is often dropped when people are speaking informally though, and I suspect that most people who don't spend time with such illustrious company don't even know the rule. Here's what one writer said : "Lady Thatcher" is appropriate for reference in conversation, with the more formal styles being correct for correspondence and legal documents, and ....formal occasions. So for me, Tolkien's use of the article gives the text a rather archaic and poetic feel, which adds to the etherial "elven" image of Galadriel.

3. Yes - it would be more normal.
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Unread Feb 21st, 2013, 08:15 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

Thank you very much!
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Unread Jun 6th, 2013, 05:04 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

The uncertain nature of the relationship between nationalism and socialism is characterized by schools of thought that both criticize nationalism as the ‘root of all evil’, and those that acknowledge its mobilization potential within wider social reform.


Can we say A wider social reform, or THE wider social reform?
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Unread Jun 7th, 2013, 03:20 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

No. The reference is generic not specific so "the" is not possible. And reform in this sense is uncountable - so not "a" either.
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Unread Jun 7th, 2013, 09:40 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

It was a crisis period for the British economy and drastic action was required.

Thank you for your previous answer, but how about using "a" here-would it work?

Last edited by Beatrix : Jun 8th, 2013 at 05:52 am.
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Unread Jun 8th, 2013, 05:57 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

No - again, this is "action" in it's generic sense meaning "it was necessary to do something". So it's uncountable. Words like reform and action are only used countably when they refer to specific actions or reform. Eg :

XXX is best remembered for his reforms of the health and education systems. (2 reforms are specified)
XXX did YYY and ZZZ. The court ruled that his state of mental health meant that he could not be held responsible for his actions. (ie YYY and ZZZ)

Sometimes of course, the specific actions/reforms are not listed - the reference is to "everything they did". But the implication is always that they were concrete events which could be listed if necessary.

Compare that with your examples of both reform and action, which are much vaguer - we don't know exactly what action/reform is referred to - the sentences could be glossed as "any wider social reform /some sort of action". In this case the words (and many others like them) are used uncountably.
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Unread Jun 9th, 2013, 09:59 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

But the examples of specific action were given in the passages before the quoted sentence. I
ll search and give the whole (con)text.
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Unread Jun 9th, 2013, 10:42 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

Possibly - but they aren't what this sentence is referrring to. It's saying that those actions were justified because people knew that some sort of "drastic action was required" - ie before they decided the specific form that the action should take.
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Unread Jun 11th, 2013, 02:00 pm
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

Thank you for your answer on the other thread, Id like to check if Ive grasped the meaning of (can we say THE here?) "generic sense":
For example, somebodys girlfriend is always fighting with his friends, but "he always takes ____friend s side (never ____girlfriend s side)" (without the article)?
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Unread Jun 11th, 2013, 02:02 pm
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

(sorry, the apostrophe key on my new keyboard is out of order)


thank you so much!
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Unread Jun 11th, 2013, 11:46 pm
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

another example: My visa is about to expire and I might be in urgent need of visa extension.

Is it ok as it is written now? Could I put "A" in front of visa extension? Can I put "THE" as well...

Sorry, they appear to be so tricky!
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Unread Jun 12th, 2013, 01:56 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

"A" yes. "the" wouldn't make sense - it's the first mention in the text and, as such, is not "shared knowledge" between the speaker/writer and listener/reader.
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Unread Jun 12th, 2013, 02:35 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

Thank you, I suspected it to be the case, just wanted to check it. How about the "friend's side" question?
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Unread Jun 12th, 2013, 02:52 am
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Default Re: Omission of articles by native speakers

In this case you'd need a possessive - He always takes his friend's side.
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