Article determination of certain noun groups
Some English nouns present special difficulties in the use of articles. Here are 5 groups of them.
a) Morning, day, afternoon, evening, night. With regard to meaning and syntactic position the nouns can be determined by the zero (no article), definite and indefinite article.
No article is used before the above nouns when the idea of day, afternoon, night, morning, evening is meant. Day, afternoon and morning are used in the meaning «light» while evening and night — in the meaning «darkness». Hence the set expressions by day, at night, from morning till night, etc. The nouns may be attributed by the adjectives early, late. For example: It was early morning. Day broke and we set out for work. The sun set and night came. It was late evening. Day is for work, night for sleep.
The indefinite article is used when the nouns are modified by the descriptive attribute, and thus performs its classifying function: It was a foggy, frosty afternoon. (Not a clear, warm afternoon.) / spent a sleepless night. (Not a night full of sweet dreams.)
The definite article is used to denote a concrete morning, day, afternoon, evening and night. The nouns may be modified by the limiting attribute. For example: We spent the night in the mountains. (A particular night.) / will never forget the day I met her.
The definite article is always used with the nouns as part of adverbial phrases with the preposition in to denote a concrete, usually tomorrow, morning, day, afternoon, . etc.: / haven’t got what you want now, but I can get it for you in the morning. I’ll work in the evening. I’ll have a sleep in the late afternoon. (Today)
b) Spring, summer, autumn, winter. These nouns can be determined by the 3 types of the article.
No article is used when the nouns denote the idea of the season. They may be attributed by the adjectives early and late. For example: It was spring. Winter is the season between autumn and spring. It was late autumn. I like summer.
No article is used before the nouns attributed by next and last, last autumn, next winter.
The indefinite article is used with the nouns modified by a descriptive attribute: It was a wet spring. It was a hot summer. It was a rainy autumn. It was a snowy winter.
The definite article is used to point to a concrete season of a year. The nouns may be modified by the limiting attribute. For example: It was the spring of 1987.
The summer was cold and rainy. It happened in the summer of 1990.
c) Breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, supper. These nouns can have various article determination.
No article is used before the nouns when they arc not described by any attribute: We usually have breakfast at eight in the morning. What time do you have dinner? Mother is cooking dinner. It happened during lunch. She made a cake for tea. We had fish for supper.
The indefinite article is used with the nouns attributed by adjectives: We had a substantial breakfast. They had a nice dinner at a restaurant.
The definite article is used with the nouns when a concrete meal is meant. They may as well be modified by the limiting attribute. For example: The breakfast we had today was substantial. The dinner was a success.
d) School, college, university, hospital, church, prison. These nouns can also be determined by various articles.
No article is used before the above nouns when they denote the idea of those places. Most often they collocate with the verbs be and go: For example: She went to school at the age of six. (As a pupil) She started college last year. Did you go to university? (As a student) He had to go to hospital. He is still in hospital. (As a patient) They go to church every Sunday. I saw them at church. (As parishioners) The thief was sent to prison for a year. (For punishment)
The indefinite article is used when these nouns refer to a building, with or without an attribute. For example:
There is a school near my house. (Not a college, a church, or prison) A new hospital is being built in this street. While travelling in the country we passed through a small village with an old church.
The definite article is used with the nouns to denote a particular school, college, university, church, etc.: The parents went to the school to meet their daughter’s teacher. (To a concrete school, not as pupils) Where is the university? (A concrete university) The workmen went to the church to repair the roof. (Not as parishioners) She went to the hospital to visit her brother. (To a concrete hospital, as a visitor)
e) Bed, town. These nouns differ in terms of article determination and therefore should be described one after another.
Bed can be determined by the 3 types of the article.
The indefinite article before bed is used to denote a piece of furniture to sleep on, usually after there is, with or without an attribute: There is a comfortable bed in his room. There is a bed, a table, and a cupboard in the room.
The definite article before the noun is used to denote a concrete bed: The bed has never been slept in. The bed is not comfortable.
No article before the noun usually renders the idea of sleep or illness: It’s time to go to bed. Is she still in bed? She likes reading in bed. (Before falling asleep) You look ill, you ‘d better stay in bed.
Town can be specified by the 3 types of the article.
The indefinite article before town is used to refer to something which is larger than a village but smaller than a city: Stratford-upon-Avon is a small town on the Thames.
The definite article before town is used to denote a concrete town, or life in towns and cities: / want to go to the town where I was born. The town is small but beautiful. I prefer the town to the country.
No article before town is used to denote the nearest town or the chief city of an area in England, usually London: We cannot go shopping to town tomorrow. I was in town on business last week.