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It's been a long time since I've noticed that natives omit articles in casual speech quite a lot when the context is understood:

  • Oh, look, train's coming.

How does this work?

2 Answers 2

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For your example, in my mind, I shorten it further and read that as:

Oh look. Train's comin'.

or perhaps (older, Western style)

Oh look. Train's a comin'.

The first example above is very casual while the second sounds a bit old man / archaic; something out of the past.

The "correct" sentence being:

Oh, look! The train is coming.

or

Oh, look! A train is coming.

What about the mechanics of this? I think I can decompose it for you:

First, for this to make sense, both the speaker and listener must understand which train we are talking about, probably because we can see it in the distance, or perhaps we heard a train whistle. With this setup, we can drop the "the / a" article on the train because we assume that the listener knows which train we are chatting (very informal: chat'n) about. We can also drop the 'is' for the progressive tense because the 'ing' signals this, plus context lets us know that this isn't past progressive (not "was coming".)

Dropping the 'g' off the 'ing' is typical lazy English speaker nonsense :)

We can take it to the extreme if we want and just say:

Train.

and nod a bit towards it. This is abrupt, but in the above situation, it would mean the same thing. Long ago, when I was a child playing in the street with other kids, we used to say "Car" to each other in order to let everyone know to get out of the road because a car was coming.

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  • In Russia we did the same thing when we were kids and kids still say "Машина!" when a car is approaching. Nov 15, 2017 at 5:28
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For the life of me, I can't find any rules governing this. The following are only my observations and I gladly defer to anyone who does provide links to rules.

  • In spoken English, people may omit an article when an object is obvious and the phrase is a simple statement of fact. For example, a baseball game is scheduled to play later today. "Game's about to start," is a phrase that would make sense to me. "Let's go to game!" doesn't work. In fact, it's the kind of phrase that would be used to rudely and stereotypically identify a non-native speaker.

  • In spoken and formal written English, people may omit an article when an object is obvious and coupled directly with an action verb. For example:

  • Let's watch TV.

  • Let's play baseball.

On the other hand...

  • Can we walk dog?

sounds bad. This might be due to the difference between countable and uncountable nouns. A television set is a countable thing, but television is an uncountable idea. The same could be said (and certainly will be said if you're a fan) of baseball. Games of baseball can be counted, but baseball cannot.

Dogs, on the other hand, can only be counted. And therefore the word (dog or dogs) always requires an article. (Well, unless you're trying to tell someone they're ugly, e.g., "You're a dog!" But that might be because "dog" is being used as a methaphor for "ugly" which is uncountable, but....)

On the other, other hand

Just to make things worse, "rain" is uncountable. However,

  • Let's watch rain.

while grammatically correct, sounds funny. At best it implies you and your friend will go on a quest and travel any distance to find rain to watch. I believe most people would say,

  • Let's watch the rain.

And at this point I'm inventing reasons for the exceptions. And that's the problem. This is one of those things where there are as many exceptions as there are rules, and the only way to know which one is right is to hear it said by a native... maybe.

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  • Yeh, I remember I heard in one TV series "Good! Engine's working, so we're done here. Car's all yours Micky." That's two omitted articles almost in a row. Nov 15, 2017 at 5:33
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    Love the ending "maybe" there. English is such a screwed up language :) Nov 15, 2017 at 5:38

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