The Definition and Purpose of the Zero Article
In English grammar, the term zero articlerefers to an occasion in speech or writing where a noun or noun phrase is not preceded by an article (a, an, or the). The zero article is also known as the zero determiner.
In general, no article is used with proper nouns, mass nouns where the reference is indefinite, or plural count nouns where the reference is indefinite. Also, no article is generally used when referring to means of transport (by plane) or common expressions of time and place (at midnight, in jail). In addition, linguists have found that in regional varieties of English known as New Englishes, omitting an article is often done to express non-specificity.
Examples of the Zero Article
In the following examples, no article is used before the italicized nouns.
Ø My mother’s name is Rose. I gave her a rose on Mother’s Day.
Ø Every mile is two in winter.
Ø This plant grows in sandy soil and on the edges of swamps.
Ø David Rockefeller was authorized to hold the position of director of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Zero Article in American and British English
In American and British English, no article isused before words such as school, college, class, prison or camp when these words are used in their “institutional” sense.
Ø The students start school in the fall.
Ø College provides opportunities for students to learn and meet new people.
However, some nouns that are used with definite articles in American English are notused with articles in British English.
Ø When I was in the hospital, I often wished there were fewer hours in theday. [American English]
Ø When Elizabeth was in hospital, she was occasionally visited by her parents. [British English]
No article is used when making generalization with plural countable nouns and singular uncountable nouns.
Cars are still expensive for lower-income people. (Countable noun)
Flying is far safer than driving. (Uncountable noun)
He loves drawing wild horses. (Countable noun)
(Not: He loves drawing the wild horses.)
If we go by train, we will save time on our journey. (Uncountable noun)
(Not: If we go by train, we will save the time on our journey.)
for general statements:
Pigs are farm animals.
(Not: The pigs are farm animals.)
Bats are nocturnal creatures.
Ice floats on water.
before plural countable nouns:
He bought red plastic roses for her.
(Not: He bought the red plastic roses for her.)
We travelled through different countries, working in restaurants.
She is inviting only female friends for her birthday dinner.
No article is required before uncountable nouns.
We drink alcohol-free beer for dinner.
(Not: We drink the alcohol-free beer for dinner.)
Those statues are carved in white marble.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide which animals breathe out.
before abstract nouns used in a general sense:
It is said that money cannot buy happiness.
(Not: Money cannot buy the happiness.)
We always expect total honesty from our employees.
(Not: We always expect the total honesty from our employees.)
before proper nouns:
He is a fan of Michael Jackson.
(Not: He is a fan of the Michael Jackson.)
She gave birth to twins in June.
(Not: She gave birth to twins in the June.)
She came down with measles and had to stay in bed.
(Not: She came down with the measles and had to stay in bed.)
Our family doctor suffers from asthma.
(Not: Our family doctor suffers from the asthma.)
before name of materials:
Gold is found in Australia.
(Not: The gold is found in Australia.
They are mining for tin.
(Not: They are mining for the tin.)
before the name of cities, states, countries, islands, or mountains:
India achieved independence in 1947.
(Not: The India achieved independence in 1947.)
Mount Everest is the world’s highest mountain.
(Not: The Mount Everest is the world’s highest mountain.)