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Matter is composed of atoms separated by empty space through which the atoms move...

Why isn't there an article before the words "empty space"?

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    The apparent need for an article depends somewhat on how you parse the sentence. "Matter is composed of atoms separated by empty space (through which the atoms move)" vs. "Matter is composed of atoms separated by [the empty space through which the atoms move].
    – fixer1234
    May 27, 2017 at 3:28
  • This is a really good question. A good answer will shed a lot of light on what articles mean in English.
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 27, 2017 at 5:11
  • It is very tricky in this case, and I still don't quite get this. Thank you and I will keep working on how to parse sentences.
    – Yang Welty
    May 27, 2017 at 5:13

1 Answer 1

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By not using an article, the author is referring to a general

empty space

which is what is between all matter.

the empty space

would refer to a specific empty space.

The empty space between atoms...
The US and Europe are separated by the Atlantic Ocean.

where as

an empty space
Matter is composed of atoms separated by an empty space

would make the empty space more specific in relation to the atoms

The US and Europe are separated by an ocean.

in this case ocean is associated by its relationship to the US and Europe.

The US is separated from Europe and Japan by ocean.

in this case it is the generic ocean that is being referred to.

It also helps that empty space is noncountable.

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