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Let me give you some examples from my textbook, that were confusing for me.

  1. How many strings does ___ bass guitar have?
  2. How many players can be on court in ___ basketball team?
  3. Which European country hasn't fought in ___ war since 1815?
  4. Is __ spider ___ insect?

I "feel" that they can be spoken in either way, i.e. with article or without, but I'm not sure.

And by general concept I mean some class of common objects, like biology taxon... Now, when I've mentioned it, I'm starting to think that taxons cannot be singular words.

In these examples I can consider guitar, team, war, spider and insect as objects in general or as some "one" object. It's hard to explain, but I think it's an influence of my native language and Japanese. I suppose, any singular countable noun in English should be preceded by an article (or other specifying word). And general entities should be used in a plural form. Please, correct my conclusions if I'm wrong.

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    Could you clarify what "either way" refers to? What are you comparing a(n) with? – snailboat Oct 10 '16 at 11:33
  • What do mean by "general concepts"? 1, 2 and 4 don't seem to qualify as such. – user3169 Oct 10 '16 at 18:28
  • Thank you for your comments, I've tried to correct my question. – Andrei Oct 11 '16 at 9:07
  • For what it's worth, #2 is a poorly-worded sentence, even when the article is correctly used. – J.R. Oct 11 '16 at 9:10
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All of them take the article. The exception is “fought in ___ war”, which can be fought in a war or fought in war.

The reason for this is that the word war means both the event (as in “another war has started”) as well as the state/practice (as in “war has claimed many lives”). However, in this specific construct, fought in a war is more common.

  • Interestingly enough, though (and perhaps one reason this can be difficult for a learner), the article would be omitted in Nos. 1 & 4 if the object was pluralized: How many strings do bass guitars have? Are spiders insects? – J.R. Oct 11 '16 at 9:12

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