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In the following sentence, can we leave out articles? If we can, what's the grammar rule?

John Lennon, (an) English singer, (a) musician, was born in Liverpool.

I read a sentence in Advanced Grammar in Use by Martin Hewings:

Mr. Bob Timms, leader of the Democratic Party, MP for Threeoaks, has announced his resignation.

There are no articles before the words, 'leader' and 'MP', so I wonder what the difference is.

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2 Answers 2

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In the, likely newpaper headline,

"Mr. Bob Timms, leader of the Democratic Party, MP for Threeoaks, has announced his resignation.

the definite article is missing.

It could read:

Mr. Bob Timms, (THE) leader of the Democratic Party, (THE) MP for Threeoaks, has announced his resignation.

because there is only one leader and one MP for Threeoaks.

If applied to the Lennon sentence, it could be :

John Lennon, (the) famous Beatle, was born in Liverpool.

With or without the indefinite article, a, it would be

John Lennon, (an) English singer and musician, was born in Liverpool.

to read idiomatically - at least the and would be needed

That said, in newspaper headlines you can do whatever you want as long as it stays understandable

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  • It is not unidiomatic to leave out the indefinite article a there, even in non-headline contexts. John Lennon, English singer and musician, was born in Liverpool.
    – TimR
    Dec 14, 2017 at 14:59
  • But not John Lennon, English singer, musician,
    – mplungjan
    Dec 14, 2017 at 15:01
  • It would be a literary flourish to express the attributes without articles and the conjunction and. Michael Ayrton—painter, sculptor, writer—has died. It's not "idiomatic" in the sense of "used in normal conversation" but it is idiomatic in the sense of "grammatical".
    – TimR
    Dec 14, 2017 at 15:06
  • So what is the grammar rule as asked by OP?
    – mplungjan
    Dec 14, 2017 at 15:07
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    It is rule 17(b)3.4
    – TimR
    Dec 14, 2017 at 15:08
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As others have pointed out, it's idiomatic to leave out the article even if the sentence is not a newspaper headline. However, as a matter of style this works well as a list of three or more elements, separated from the main sentence by parentheses or long dashes. Examples

Giacomo Casanova -- well-known ladies' man, bon vivant, and hedonist -- wrote an autobiography detailing (among other things) the customs and norms of European social life in the 18th century.

William Shakespeare (poet, playwright, and actor) was born in the now famous Stratford-upon-Avon.

Leaving out the article can add some drama to the sentence, as if you are introducing someone important to the audience:

My neighbor's cat -- infamous scrounger, perennial thief, and terror to small dogs everywhere -- sleeps most of the time

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