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The English determiners wikipedia page says

The determinative function is typically obligatory in a singular, countable, common noun phrase (compare I have *a* new cat to I have new cat).

and

In most cases, a singular, countable, common noun requires a determinative to form a noun phrase, plurals and uncountables do not

What are some example phrases where singular common nouns do not need determinatives in English?

In other languages in which NPs usually occur with determinatives, are there similar exceptional examples?

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    questions about the grammar of one specific language are generally off-topic here. You will be more likely to get an answer at english.stackexchange.com
    – Tristan
    Mar 4, 2022 at 10:18
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    @theonlygusti Well, the description of the English tag clearly states: "For non-linguistic questions about the English language, visit one of our sister sites English Language & Usage or English Language Learners." Mar 4, 2022 at 14:30
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    @Araucaria-him I don't think that throwing heavy linguistic terminology at this question without changing its core content is more than a bluff. Mar 4, 2022 at 14:32
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    @jk-ReinstateMonica I don't think that's fair. I've just endeavoured to make it cross-linguistic/comparative. After all its a cross-linguistic phenomenon. Mar 4, 2022 at 14:32
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    Personally, I think this question as it stands should stay open. The existing answer demonstrates that the underlying linguistic ideas are relevant to other languages too.
    – Draconis
    Mar 5, 2022 at 0:42

1 Answer 1

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These are called bare noun phrases and are of interest cross-linguistically in relation to languages in which noun phrases usually contain Determiners. With regard to English, there are a couple of instances where bare noun phrases occur which readily come to mind. The first concerns bare role NPs (note that this should be parsed as [bare [role-NPs]]. This is when a noun phrase (NP) functioning as a Predicative Complement indicates some kind of unique role, function, office or title and can appear without a Determiner:

  • Who'll be maid of honour
  • He was appointed managing director.

Bare role NPs often occur more freely in other languages. For example, in Spanish and German, although bare role NPs still have to be Predicative Complements, they do not have to refer to a unique role:

  • Soy cirujano. I am [a] surgeon.
  • Ich bin Lehrerin. I am [a] teacher.

Another difference here is that whilst an English bare role NP can always be replaced by a regular NP with a Determiner, the same is not true for Spanish or German where the bare role NP is obligatory for this kind of ascriptive (as opposed to specifying) Predicative Complement:

  • I was a managing director.
  • *Soy un cirujano.
  • *Ich bin ein Lehrerin.

The second instance involves coordination. As with many aspects of grammar cross-linguistically, coordination bends many of the rules that otherwise apply in noun phrases. Consider grammatical case. In the French sentence:

  • Lui et elle sont allés ensemble

... the coordination with et licences the so-called disjunctive forms of the pronouns (lui and elle), where we would otherwise expect nominative forms (il and elle).

In English we sometimes observe bare coordination in coordinations of NPS. This phenomenon is one that is not at all well understood, and also one which is currently the subject of much academic research. This is when coordinated NPs which we would otherwise expect to take a Determiner of some description appear "bare" with no Determiner or article. These are not restricted to coorrdinations with and, but also with or, but and so forth.

Here are some examples:

  • A black cat and a brown dog were fighting in the street. Cat and dog were equally filthy.
  • Are you man or mouse?
  • Nursemaid, mistress and mother all at the same time, I doted on those children.
  • I had pen and paper ready to make notes
  • Mother and child were said to be recovering well.
  • He appeared to be millionaire and homeless vagabond at the same time.

Many thanks to Janus Bahs Jacquet for disabusing me of my misunderstandings re dative and disjunctive French pronouns.

Further reading

Here's a couple of articles on bare coordination:

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  • CAn singular, uncountable, common nouns more commonly lack determiners in English?
    – minseong
    Mar 4, 2022 at 14:22
  • Not really, that I can think of. Of course, this only applies to nouns functioning as the (ultimate) Heads of NPs. Uninflected 'singular' nouns are often used as attributive modifiers of other nouns. Mar 4, 2022 at 14:25
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    Lui in the French example isn’t a dative pronoun, but a disjunctive one. And note that your English example of a role NP with determiner is off – role NPs can occur with definite determiners in Spanish and German as well (Soy el cirujano and Ich bin die Lehrerin are both valid); the difference is that in English, they can often appear even with indefinite determiners (“I was a managing director”), though not always (“He was appointed *a managing director”). Mar 4, 2022 at 15:31
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    Another example is the use of countable nouns with some prepositions to express generic meanings: "on foot," or "by car" in English; "à pieds," or "en voiture" in French; and "zu Fuß," but perhaps not "*mit Auto" in German. Mar 4, 2022 at 19:47
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    @Araucaria-him I think you forgot to update the text itself; I’ve made a small edit. Mar 5, 2022 at 17:32

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