What is the common practice for using articles with size-wise constructions?

When talking about shoe/dress/body size.

To mention some:

  1. I take (a) size one.
  2. All of her shoes are (a) size two.
  3. This time her dress has to be (a) size three.
  4. You/they are (a) size four (and a half).

Is the article always required here or is it optional?

What role does the article play here?

  • Good question. As written, I feel like they all require the articles. However, if you make the size constructions proper nouns, I think they would not need (and would actually be incorrect) with articles. For example, "All of her shoes are Size Two." Meanwhile, if you just do a Google search of "I wear Size Two," you'll see many examples of "a size two" with the article. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 9:25
  • And the article is for "two" as a noun (see the third entry). Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 9:49
  • Is the situation here the same as with "(a) half past two" or "help (to)", where "a" and "to" are optional but nonetheless may occasionally be present? I mean the usage aspect, first of all. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 9:53
  • I don't think so. Try taking out the word "size" and perhaps it would be more clear? "All of her shoes are a two." "This time, her dress has to be a three." "You are a four (and a half)." Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 9:58
  • 1
    I don't find #2 idiomatic with the indefinite article. But the others are idiomatic, and I would regard them as instances of deletion. I am a size nine (shoe). The odder thing is the verb-to-be. Why do we say "I am a size..." or "she is a size..." I suppose the stated size becomes a nominal adjective, and the indefinite article identifies a category or class: I will have a tall, please, with skim milk. And so the verb-to-be expresses membership in the class.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 10:41

1 Answer 1


None of the examples require an article. And, they all may use one.

"What size do you take, sir?" "A nine, please."

The article is nice, here. but still not required, as the question left no doubt the response would be a size.

Using the article is fine today.

I believe the use of articles in the examples would have been idiomatic 150 years ago, though. We have some literature on problems learning English by persons whose first language does not use articles, and, the difficulty in learning them. I have not been able to find any studies on Italian, German and Yiddish speakers, who knew articles but used them differently. However I have reason to think such a use as:

I take a size one

came from 19th century immigrants. It is not important that this be proven or not, but that :

I wear size 12


I wear a size 12

are both acceptable, and seem to indicate an innovation occurred at some point. Note that it is still not common usage to use the article in some constructions:

I wear a size 12 shoes


I wear a size 4 dresses

I would not use the articles. But, as to the examples in the question, the use is optional.

  • Thank you for your answer. I just need some time to think it all over and come up with new questions to clarify the situation. Say, can we in some of the sentences substitute the article with "of": All of her shoes are of size two? It seems to me that the situation here is not that simple and there are some aspects to add to the explanation. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 15:52
  • @Buckminster ..... "All of her shoes are of size two?" really does not need the preposition., anymore than it needs an article...my only issue with use of the article is if one asks: "Do you have a size two?"..I will think "what sort of size two:?". Do ask all the questions about this you wish, What;s troubling you will get worked out eventually. Remember, its OK to use the article.
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 16:32

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