057 An amazing hundred odd things you can do with English articles

When students complain to me that they will never get their heads around all the twists and turns of English articles I normally agree, while reassuring them that basic textbook rules cover ninety-something percent of cases, so they shouldn’t really worry their heads too much over the odd anomaly.

But just how many exceptions are there? Here on Czechlist we have started counting:

1. A(n) plus adjective plus plural noun phrase

 After AN incredible 859 days

This structure is dealt with in some detail here http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=330 ( “ English number-expressions have inherited […] a limited ability to act like singular noun phrases.”) and here https://english.stackexchange.com/…/indefinite-articles… “the singular article is used because in each of your examples the plural nouns make up a _single_ unit of time.”

2.  Musical instruments

The violin is really difficult.                                                                                                                                                Who’s that on the piano?

We often use the + singular when we talk about musical instruments in general, or about playing musical instruments.

But the is often dropped when talking about jazz or pop, and sometimes even classical music.

This recording was made with Miles Davis on trumpet.

From Practical English Usage — Michael Swan p. 66

3. Differentiating names of people, countries etc: 

The England of the 15th century was very different from the England of today.

Is this the same John I was speaking to yesterday?


4. Mountains

No article with some exceptions in the Bernese Oberland:

Snowdon, Everest, Mont Blanc, the Jungfrau


5. Titles

No article except the Reverend, the Venerable and aristocratic titles with place names:

General Cook, Lord Byron, Earl Attlee,  Cardinal Wolsey, King William I, the Reverend Charles Smith, the Duke of Beaufort, the Marquis of Bath.

6. Streets and Squares

No article, except for a few foreign ones:

Oxford Street, Park Lane, Berkeley Square, the Gran Via, the Champs Elysees

And in London some major roads are referred to familiarly with the article

Down the Old Kent Road

Up the Holloway Road

Up and down the City Road (from Pop Goes the Weasel)

7. Islands

No article, unless they are in groups:

Ceylon, Cuba, Australia, the Channel Islands, the Hebrides.

8. Before adjectives

Articles are used before adjectives to turn them into class nouns or abstract nouns:

The millionaire lives in a different world from the pauper.

The poor are still with us.

Nurses take care of the sick.

The strong should protect the weak.
9. Some phrases:

have zero article, e.g.:

to live from hand to mouth,

by word of mouth,

to set sail,

to make port,

to fight tooth and nail,

to throw oneself heart and soul,

inch by inch,

foot by foot,

by hook or by crook,

friend or foe?

to turn turtle

10. Special constructions

Note the position of the in these sentences.

If you can cope with a harder class, so much the better for you.

If he gets told off, so much the worse for him.

He did not pass the examination, more’s the pity.

If you did that, the more fool you.

Czechlist: protože někdo to holt dělat musí :-)