10. More examples with zero articles
We have looked at many examples of certain nouns that do not use the articles a, an, and the, and now here is a list of others that do not use them.
(The) zero article is used when we talk about groups of things generally: I’m going to buy sweets. Petrol is getting expensive. DVDs are quite cheap now., unless it is specific: Where are the sweets? (the sweets that I know about and I am looking for); Where did you buy the petrol for your car? (The petrol specifically for your car.) The DVDs have arrived. (The DVDs that I ordered.)
Zero article is used for days of the week, months, holiday periods, seasons:
I’ll see you on Saturday. What are you doing at Christmas? I can’t wait for summer.
But if we are talking about specific examples, we can use a, an or the:
My birthday is on a Saturday this year. I remember the winter of 1986: it was very cold.
Times of the day: I’ll finish it by lunchtime. I’m staying up until midnight.
But again, for more specific times: I’ll see you in the morning. That was an afternoon I won’t forget!
Zero articles are often used in newspaper headlines, which themselves do not follow the usual rules of grammar. For example, they often leave out prepositions and even change the tense:
Prime Minister visits Japan (The Prime Minister is visiting Japan); Over 50 hurt in building collapse (Over fifty people were hurt in a building that collapsed).
When we are making a short comment about something, we often just say the noun and leave out all the other words that we normally use in the phrase because it is clear from the context. For example, if we like the hat that the woman is wearing, instead of saying 'that is a nice hat', we might simply say: Nice hat! But it can be the opposite:
MAN: So what do you think?
WOMAN: Shoes. Where are your shoes?
MAN: Oh dear me, I am still wearing my slippers! Anything else?
WOMAN: Awful jacket.
MAN: I think I had better change my clothes completely!
Zero article is also used when we talk about the things we enjoy or dislike, even if we would more naturally think of them as countable nouns:
A: What's your favourite food?
B: Apple. (Not one individual apple, but the flesh of the apple generally, which is uncountable.)
A: And your favourite colour?
B: Green. (Green is a colour, but the speaker likes the colour green in general)
A: What's your least favourite job?
B: Teacher. (not one particular teacher, but the role of being a teacher. A teacher is also acceptable)
A: What would you like to be?
B: A teacher. (I would like to be one of these people)
M) A QUICK CHECK
Decide which of the following examples require a, an, the, or nothing at all (zero article):
1. A: What do I need to make pancakes for dinner? Everyone's hungry.
B: Eggs, milk and flour. And don't forget to add salt.
2. My party is on Saturday after Easter.
3. I remember Christmas in 1970. It snowed on Christmas Day.
4. I'm staying up after midnight to watch the results of the election.
5. A: Great show!
B: Thank you.
1. They are usually the pancakes as these are specific for the dinner to be prepared because everyone is hungry, but it can also be just a general enquiry, so the is not always included. In B's response, they are just not using any extra vocabulary as it is not necessary - A knows what B is talking about.
2. This is the Saturday after Easter - it is a specific Saturday.
3. As with (1), this depends on the context. This can be the Christmas (meaning a specific Christmas) or the occasion/institution, which does not need the. The same is for Christmas Day, but most native speakers are not likely to use 'the'.
4. No article before midnight.
5. A is using a shortened comment of the phrase 'that was a great show'. The article is not used as it is clear from the context what is being discussed.
We are nearly there! Only one more page to go - to discuss how we should say 'the' and 'a'. You might think, 'Oh, that's easy', but there are traps even here...