What are the rules for using zero articles in English?

This is the fourth and final chapter about Articles. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Introduce the concept of the zero article in English

– Explore when and why zero articles are used

– Provide examples for the six uses of zero articles

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Chapter 4

The final aspect of article use in the English language is the zero article. Often written as ‘Ø’ when providing explanations (but never written out in actual writing), the zero article simply means that no article is necessary before the noun phrase it introduces. Unlike for definite and indefinite articles, there’s very little general advice to describe how the zero article is used in English. However, there are still a number of quick rules that can be applied to help you, although it’s worth remembering that exceptions to these rules do exist – such as the use of the idiomatic phrases mentioned in Chapter 1. 

 

1. Plural and Uncountable Nouns

Firstly, it’s important to note that in certain contexts and situations, it is possible to use zero articles with both plural and uncountable nouns, as is shown in the following examples:

Articles 4.1 Plural and Uncountable Nouns
Articles 4.2 Plural and Uncountable Nouns

It would however be quite ungrammatical to use the zero article for singular nouns, such as in the sentences “Give me Ø book” or “Do you have Ø spare chair?”.

 

2. Generalisations

The rule that generalisations take the zero article explains its usage with plural nouns. The following example sentences all take plural nouns and are all generalisations about the objects or concepts those nouns refer to:

Articles 4.3 Generalisations

3. Using Another Determiner

Although we’ve previously explained that zero articles aren’t used with singular nouns, sometimes it may appear that this simply isn’t the case. However, as is shown in the following examples, when such a situation occurs it can usually be explained by the fact that another determiner has been used instead of an article:

Articles 4.4 Using Another Determiner

In the above examples, it’s not that a zero article has been used, but that a type of determiner such as the demonstrative ‘that’, the numeral ‘one’, the possessive adjective ‘my’, or the quantifier ‘any’ is used in its place. Remember that articles are themselves a type of determiner, and that no two determiners may exist together in the same place.

 

4. Time Expressions with Prepositions

The fourth rule is that zero articles are also used with many time expressions that take prepositions, such as “I’ll see you next weekend” or “let’s meet on Monday”. 

 

5. Certain Proper Nouns

Both people and places are two groups of proper noun which also demand the use of zero articles, such as in the following two examples

Articles 4.5 Certain Proper Nouns
Articles 4.6 Certain Proper Nouns

6. Certain Topics

Finally, there are certain topics which take the zero article but which seem to have little reason for doing so. These topics are: certain institutions, meals, and anything to do with work, the home and the bed:

Articles 4.7 Certain Topics
4 of 4 Chapters Completed

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