Articles: special rules and exceptions

Posted by Manjusha. Filed in English Grammar

Articles are often dropped in double expressions, particularly with prepositions. Examples are:

With knife and fork (NOT With a knife and a fork) (NOT With a knife and fork)
Husband and wife (NOT a husband and a wife)
From top to bottom (NOT From the top to the bottom)
Inch by inch
On land and sea

Note that articles are not usually dropped when singular nouns follow prepositions.

You can’t get there without a car. (NOT You can’t get there without car.)

Both and all

The definite article the is often dropped after both.

Both children are good at singing.
OR Both the children are good at singing.

And we often leave out the between all and a number.

You can take all the three shirts.
OR You can take all three shirts.

Kind of

The article a/an is usually dropped after kind of, sort of, type of and similar expressions.

What kind of person is she? (NOT What kind of a person is she?)
What sort of bird is that?


We use a/an with singular countable nouns in exclamations after what.

What a pretty girl! (NOT What pretty girl!)
What a sweet song!

Note that a/an cannot be used with uncountable nouns.

What nonsense! (NOT What a nonsense!)

Place names

Articles are used with the names of:

Seas (the Pacific, the Atlantic)
Mountains (the Alps, the Himalayas)
Island groups (the West Indies)
Rivers (the Nile, the Amazon, the Thames)
Deserts (the Sahara, the Atacama)

We usually use no article with the names of continents, countries, states, departments etc. Examples are: Asia, India, France, Texas, Beijing etc.


We say: the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, the Hague

Sections in this article

Expressions without prepositions
Prepositions at the end of clauses
Prepositions: some useful points
Common prepositions - usage
Common errors with prepositions