From the movie The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) starring Leonardo DiCaprio who plays the role of the young King Louis XIV. d'Artagnan is responsible for security. Here's a short conversation between the two:

King Louis XIV: Perhaps l haven't met a woman with a heart like my own until recently.
d'Artagnan: Would that be Christine?
King Louis XIV: It is good that you watch me, but I fear you watch me too closely.
d'Artagnan: Did you send Raoul to the war so that you could be free to pursue her?
King Louis XIV: Do you question my honor?
d'Artagnan: No, I do not question your honor. It's you I care about.
King Louis XIV: Raoul will return soon. You have my word.
d'Artagnan: Thank you, Your Majesty.
King Louis XIV: I am a young king, but I am king.
d'Artagnan: Then be a good king, Your Majesty.

Can anyone explain why there is no indefinite article in front of the second "king"?


2 Answers 2


Let's look at a concrete example before going deeper.

Consider your screen name.

Saying that you are a cookie monster conveys the idea that there is a group of entities that are each called cookie monster, and you are one of them.

Saying that you are the cookie monster conveys either that the 'group' of entities really has only one member (you), or that you are the most outstanding member of the group.

In each case, the focus is on some kind of classification scheme.

Saying that you are cookie monster says something about you personally - you really enjoy cookies, eat them messily, etc.

It's a similar case with your example. "I am king" uses a null article (not a zero article).

The zero article is the most indefinite article, and the null article is the most definite. Peter Master arranges articles in order from most indefinite to most definite:

zero (Ø1)--some--a--the--null (Ø2)
- Peter Master, "Acquisition of the Zero and Null Articles in English", Issues in Applied Linguistics, 14(1)

Here's an example of the zero article and null article from the same paper:

  • Zero article: The boys ate chicken.
  • Null article: Mr. Jones was appointed chairman.

The null article example has a similar quality to your "second king" example.

Note that both zero article and null article refer to something that is absent from the sentence. It can seem a little odd to describe something missing as potentially having two polar opposite possibilities. Masters goes on to say:

The zero and null articles can be readily distinguished by their paraphrasability by either an indefinite or a definite article, respectively

That is, if the sentence retains its sense when you insert an indefinite article, the original had a zero article. And if it retains its sense when you insert a (the) definite article, the original had a null article.

With your example, "... I am king" has the sense of "I am the king", with everything that being king in that context entails. But that sense is lost when "... I am king" is paraphrased as "I am a king". The original therefore has a null article.

You ask:

Can anyone explain why there is no indefinite article in front of the second "king"?

That's because the sense of the second "king" is a matter of identity, requiring the most definite article - the null article.


Articles in English are not always obligatory and there are some cases where they might be expected but are not always used.

I am a young king, but I am the king

Adding the article in here doesn't really change the meaning.

For some nouns, the article is omitted; this is sometimes called the "zero-article". King is one word that can function this way; some other words for leaders can also function this way, generally only if there could be one holder of the position (e.g "I am mayor" but not "I am Senator").

This would approximately fit in the "Institution" case in the link below: http://www.icaltefl.com/zero-article-in-english-grammar In these usages, the person is referring to the office/position they hold.

  • So, to put it in even simpler terms, one can think of this type of article usage as a title? That kind of makes sense. He was elected President (a title). He was elected the president of the community (more like a concrete instance of president). Are these two correct, you think? Sep 21, 2016 at 15:36
  • "elected" is a different case. "He was elected the president of the board" works but "He was elected the president" doesn't, so unlike the "I am king" example, the article is not optional.
    – eques
    Sep 21, 2016 at 15:41
  • 1
    With a full title like "King of England" or "President of the Senate", etc, it would be more likely to use the article.
    – eques
    Sep 21, 2016 at 15:43

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