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Where can I find a list of nouns that are used with a zero-article—that is, words which do not need an article.

For example

Milk is good.

They spoke about corruption.

Is there some list of these words so I can memorize them?

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That's not how the definite and indefinite article work. If I say, "The milk I bought last night has gone off" I am using the article correctly. I could also claim that "There is a corruption at the heart of American politics." The latter was a quote I just copied and pasted from Google. –  Mari-Lou A Dec 15 '13 at 12:55
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Additional information on a corruption: I checked with COCA and found that of all 7388 samples, 164 of them have article "a", e.g. Realism is a corruption of reality. –  Damkerng T. Dec 15 '13 at 16:09
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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Perhaps you mean uncountable nouns.

Usually, you should find a handful of uncountable nouns in any student's grammar books. As for the complete list, I'm afraid that there is no such thing. (If there is such a list somewhere, I would like to know too.)

In my opinion, memorizing them might not the most effective way. I usually consult dictionaries when I am in doubt, and you can do that too. However, you will have to choose well, for only some dictionaries will tell you clearly which noun is countable and which is uncountable. (Also note that several of them can be either countable and uncountable, depending on your specific use.)

For such an online dictionary, I recommend Macmillan Dictionary. For example, you can look up the word corruption at: http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/corruption. It will tell you exactly that corruption is uncountable.


Also note that, the is a definite article; a and an are indefinite articles. A singular countable noun must have a, an, or the in front of it. (Well, that's the basic idea, because there are exceptions such as my, your, that, etc.) For plural countable nouns and uncountable nouns, you can use either the zero-article or the definite article the.

The usage of definite article vs. indefinite article might be too complicated for me to cover all of them here. My suggestion is reading these posts: http://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/indefinite-article.
NOTE: There are quite a handful of questions in ELL being tagged with articles, definite-article, indefinite-article, and zero-article.

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+1 just a remark: it's usually, but not always, predictable from the semantics, whether a noun is uncountable or not; simply ask, "can I count this?" For instance, abstract concepts and liquids are always mass nouns (uncountable) and almost all solids are count nouns. As far as I know, the only gray area is small solids, e.g. rice and sand are mass nouns but peas and pebbles are count nouns. (Historically, peas was a mass noun and spelled pease.) –  hunter Dec 15 '13 at 13:08
    
Also, almost all mass nouns can become count nouns if we are comparing two different types, e.g. the sands of Africa vs. the sands of Asia. –  hunter Dec 15 '13 at 13:11
    
Some basic words can confuse ELLs quite easily. For example, the word job (countable) vs. work (uncountable), but then in some context, work can be countable too. –  Damkerng T. Dec 15 '13 at 13:13
    
Ah I see. Yes, job is certainly an abstract concept, yet is a count noun. My description above was too simplistic. –  hunter Dec 15 '13 at 13:18
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Either. The first is a statement about the nature of darkness. The second is a statement about a specific instance of darkness. You could do the same with milk. –  hunter Dec 15 '13 at 13:19
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