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Have a contractor apply ( ) water proofing material from ( ) grade level down.

Why do you think "material" and "level" are without an article?

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    Material is not countable. The could appear with level, but grade level is the baseline and therefore would become the default expression and drop the article. Rather like the phrase top dead center in internal combustion engine design; I've never heard or seen it as the top dead center. – John Lawler Aug 29 '16 at 2:32
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    I wouldn't guarantee that descriptive phrasing, but certainly those examples are the same phenomenon with the same result. Sea level is a fixed baseline phrase, like standard temperature and pressure. – John Lawler Aug 29 '16 at 2:36
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    That means 'a kind of material'; it's the sort of thing that happens when you force a mass noun into a count noun frame. You get a type interpretation of the mass noun (like seven inks, meaning 'seven kinds/colors of ink') fairly often. Material is similar in meaning to mass, in fact. – John Lawler Aug 29 '16 at 3:00
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    @JoeKim: Many nouns, such as material, can be either countable or uncountable. Typically there is a slight difference in meaning. "A material" means a kind of matter -- for example, cotton is "a material" -- whereas "material" just means matter -- for example, a long dress uses more "material" than a miniskirt. (That said, I think that uncountable material is more often used in figurative senses: for example, a college course might cover "a lot of material", or a journalist might "gather material" for a story.) – ruakh Aug 29 '16 at 3:00
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    The dictionary entry for material tells the reader:"[uncountable, countable]" and provides clear examples of both usages. – P. E. Dant Aug 29 '16 at 3:43
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Why do you think "material" and "level" are without an article?

Nouns used as types don't take articles. Articles make a noun talk about a specific instance of something, but when we are talking about the type, we aren't doing this anymore.

What kind of socks should I bring? Bring red ones. (Red is a type of sock. I don't care where they come from as long as they are red. If you have some, great. If you have to buy some from a store, whatever.)

WHICH socks should I bring? Bring the red ones. (There exists a number of red socks, that you should know about, and I want you to bring those red socks.)

So:

Have a contractor apply ( ) water proofing material from ( ) grade level down.

We want to contractor to apply something that is a type of material that is waterproofing, but we aren't telling him to get any instance of existing material - there may be a pile of that material there, but we don't know that.

Since articles make nouns talk about specific instances of something, when we use a noun to talk about a concept of something (e.g. "X in general"), or in the abstract, we don't use the article either.

Socks feel really good on your feet. (Socks as a concept.)

The speaker/writer is considering "grade level" as a concept. If a person had actually measured the grade level, it may become "concrete-ized" and they may then say the grade level.

  • I remember how I was surprised by the lack of an article before "eye level" (I added a comment below the question). – CowperKettle Sep 13 '16 at 17:45
  • Socks is a terrible example, because a) it only exists in the plural like trousers and glasses (of course you can wear a monocle instead, or one sock only), and therefore doesn't need the article where the singular would require a or the. The plural is the easy way out. – Hector von Mar 18 '17 at 13:08
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"water proofing material" seems to be an indirect object to "apply" and it's an adverbial objective.

"grade level down" looks like the adverbial objective of the adverbial prepositional phrase that it forms in combination with "from" and "down".

A verbose version would be "downwards from the grade level to the ..."

Compare that with the apparently related "go home vs go to home" and usage of go to vs go, because I\m not really sure, just trying to point at additional information, even if I might have it mixed up.

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