The group includes the nouns: breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper and tea.
· Names of meals are used without articles when you are talking in general about the standard meals of the day.
When did you have dinner?
I have finished breakfast.
· The definite article is used when the nouns are modified by a particularizing attribute or when the situation makes them definite.
The supper was very different from the one of the evening before. The dinner was excellent, but Isabel noticed that John ate very little.
· The indefinite article is used if the name of a meal is modified by a descriptive attribute.
I'll try to give you a decent lunch.
Walter wanted a very special dinner.
You can get a good supper here.
Occasionally, owing to a change of meaning, names of meals become countable nouns. This occurs in the following cases:
· when they denote a special formal occasion (dinner party, tea party) Both the definite and the indefinite articles may be found here.
Fleur said: "We had a dinner last night."
· when they denote a portion. In this case the noun is used with the indefinite article denoting one.
I have not enough money to buy a dinner at such an expensive restaurant
The Use of Articles with Some Semantic Groups of Nouns (2)
Names of Diseases
This group includes a considerable number of uncountable nouns: pneumonia, influenza (flu in colloquial English), scarlet fever, cholera, diabetes, anaemia, cancer, diabetes, diphtheria, hepatitis, tuberculosis, mumps and measles (The latter are both used with a singular verb), etc.
· Names of diseases are generally found without any article, as in most cases they are used just to name the kind of disease.
The doctor said he had pneumonia and told him to keep warm.
· The definite article may be used with names of diseases in a clear case of back reference or if there is a particularizing attribute.
The family was sitting around watching TV, recovering from the flu.
After the diphtheria Jane felt very weak and depressed.
Note1 Remember to use the mumps, the measles, the flu
The boy Roger arrived home with the measles.
The mumps causes swelling of the glands.
Note 2 Certain nouns which are not special medical terms are, however, used to name diseases. They may be countable, such as “cold, chill, cough” or uncountable.
He had a (bad, splitting) headache.
He had a toothache.
He had a sore throat.
He had heart trouble.
I have a boil on my hand.
She had a bruise on her leg.
Words ending in “-ache” behave in different ways, in British English. They may be countable or uncountable, so you can say:
I’ve got earache.
I’ve got an earache.
However “headache” is a count noun, and so you can have “a headache” or regular “headaches”, but you cannot say “I’ve got headache”.
Next morning she complained of a headache.
In American English all “-ache” words are count nouns.
Names of musical instruments
· When you are talking about someone’s ability to play a musical instrument you use the definite article.
She already played the guitar.
I became interested in the piano again. (= interested in playing the piano)
· If you want to talk about roles in a musical group or in a piece of music you use no article.
I don’t think I know of any duets for piano and trumpet.
· There is also no article after “on”, meaning “playing”
I have bought a recording featuring Ray Brown on bass.
· If you talk about either the general class of instrument or any particular instrument you use the definite or indefinite article.
The guitar can have six or twelve strings. (entire class)
A guitar can have six or twelve strings. (any guitar)
Media and communications
Words in this category are:
(the) television(the) telly(the) TV
the box(the) radiothe news
the telephonethe phonethe newspapersthe press
the paperthe post (Br)the mail (Am)
· When systems of mass communication and the media are referred to these nouns are used with the definite article (or sometimes without an article). In this way they can be distinguished from actual objects; 'a radio' will always be a particular object, but 'the radio' could refer to a system, as in this example.
We gather facts and attitudes from the press, the television and the radio.
I just heard her speaking on the radio
A large part of Linda's day is spent on the telephone.
But ‘by telephone' and 'by phone'
One morning an amazing letter arrived through the post.
But ‘by post'
The papers are saying how unusual it is.
· When referring to television as a form of entertainment, there is no article. But the definite article is also used (which tends to be informal)
He isn't as serious as he is on television.
Note The abbreviations, ‘TV, ‘telly’ and 'the box' (always with the) can be used in the same way.
I don't want to be seen on the telly.
· When referring to radio as an art form or profession there is no article.
He had already become a climbing spokesman on radio.
Names of means of transport
· Names of means of transport are used with the definite article when you are referring to a whole transport system or naming the form of transport
Here is a list of words in this category.
How long does it take on the train?
She sent a cable to her husband and caught the plane back to New York.
I walked to the tube instead of spending money on a taxi
Note 1 With “underground”, “tube”, “subway”, you can use the definite article to refer not only to the form of transport, but also to the location.
I am alone in the underground waiting for a train.
Note 2 “taxi, car, bicycle, ship” are not used in this way, because they do not offer a systemic means of transport.
If you say “Take the car/taxi/ bicycle” you must be referring to a particular car, taxi, bicycle.
· When these nouns are modified by a particularizing attribute and when it is clear from the context what vehicle you are talking about.
Quick! Get on the train. It’s ready to leave.
· Names of means of transport are used with the indefinite article when we mean one of many vehicles which runs on roads.
I saw Jake this morning. He was on a bus which passed me.
· All these words can be used after “by” without an article to describe the form of transport used, for example: “by bus”, “by train”, “by plane”.
I don’t often travel by bus.
You can also use the following words after “by” without an article.
Forms of entertainment
· When you are talking about someone going to enjoy a form of entertainment you use the definite article with the word for the form of entertainments. Words like these are: “cinema”, (Am “movies”), “theatre”, “opera”, “ballet”
Let’s go to the movies.
You have seen things. You have been to the opera, the ballet, the theatre.
Here we are not thinking of a particular performance of an opera or ballet, or a particular theatre building, but just of the form of entertainment.
· Cinema, theatre, opera, ballet, as well as dance, film, and television, can be used as uncountable nouns without an article to refer to the art form.
They are supreme artists of dance and theatre
I’ve seen a very fine piece of cinema.
But if these nouns indicate a particular object, the articles are used with them in accordance with the general rules. But this case is not common.
We found that the film was on at a cinema across the river.
Names of institutions in society
· These nouns are used without any article when, as part of set phrases, they lose their concrete meaning and express the purpose which the objects denoted by these nouns serve.
Here is a list of words that can be used like this.
Thus hospital comes to denote treatment, prison, jail—punishment, school, college, university—studies, church - worshipping.
· When these nouns denote concrete objects the articles are used according to the general principle. Compare the following examples.
After lunch Dr. Reily went off to the hospital.
"How long were you in hospital with that wound?" she asked.
They had a hospital in the town during the war.
The road to the prison was blocked by policemen.
He would be sent to prison if he were caught.
Perhaps he was in a German prison.
It should be noted that the use of a descriptive attribute or a particularizing attribute destroys the idiomatic meaning of the phrases in question.
He was sent to school.
He was sent to a secondary (good, public) school.
He was sent to the best school in the town.
Note. Americans say “the hospital” instead of “hospital” for institutional reference.
The words bed, table and occasionally market behave in a similar way; without an article they lose their concrete meanings.
He went to bed early, but lay awake for a long time.
I softly drew the chair to the bed and sat down.
I found a bed made up for me.
I asked her to tell me who all the people at table were.
Madame Duclerk sat at the table darning socks.
In the cafe we had a table to ourselves, but those around us were soon filled.
Parts of the body
Names of parts of the body, like hand, face, knee are usually count nouns used with the definite or the indefinite article according to the standard rules.
There is also a use where we are thinking of parts of the body touched by an outside object. For this you can use the definite article.
It bit her on the leg.
She had the urge to beat him over the head.
When the noun comes straight after a verb such as “grab” or after a verb and a preposition, for example step on, you have to use a possessive determiner.
I stepped on his foot (not I stepped on the foot).
Robert touched her cheek.
· the definite article is used before a number of nouns to indicate geographical alternatives, for example the town - the country and the sea - the land.
There are compensations in the town, particularly for older children.
I'd gone to the country with some friends.
There are a lot of tourists who take their holidays in the mountains rather than at the seaside.
We are not referring to a particular place, for example a particular town or forest. We are talking about the types of landscape or geographical environments where people live, work, or go for holidays.
Here are some words which are used like this.
He wasn’t used to life in the country because he spent twenty years in town.
'The country' in this context means areas where there are no towns or cities. You can sometimes use 'the countryside' with a similar meaning.
Note1 When the noun town is opposed to the noun country and when the nearest town or town somebody lives in is meant there is no article.
I have to go to town.
Note2 The noun sea is used in certain prepositional expressions without the.
My brother has gone to sea.
Names of shops and other businesses
Shops and other businesses that are regular features in towns or cities can be used with the definite article when you do not want to pick out a particular one.
He’s at the dentist’s.
Mother sent me to the butcher’s to get a nice joint of beef.
Some words like this are:
In these cases the activity is as important as the place. You go “to the post office” to get some stamps, “to the bank” to get some money.
If you want to have some drink you can say “Let’s go to the pub” without having a particular one in mind. But of course the difference is not always clear, or important.
When he tired of painting he went to the pub.
Names of languages and religions
· Names of languages and religions are used without any article unless the nouns language and religions are mentioned: English, French, Hinduism.
But: the English language, the Italian language, the Hindu religion.
Note. Notice the phrases: Translated from the German. and What is the French for "book"?
· Names of languages and religions are used with the definite article if they have been made definite.
The Spanish in the movie I saw last week was poorly pronounced.
Names of grammatical categories
· We find the definite article with names of some grammatical categories, such as names of tenses, moods, voices, cases and others: the Past Indefinite, the Passive Voice, the Conditional Mood, the Genitive Case.
· Use the indefinite article if you want to describe one particular instance: Singing is a Present Participle.