Sometimes, I am struggling with the useage of articles.

For example:

  1. The word 'fool' can be used as verb.
  2. The word 'fool' can be used as a verb.

Which one is correct?


'Verb' is not a proper, mass or plural noun so it must have the definite ('the') or an indefinite article ('a'/'an'), so 1. is an incorrectly formed sentence. In this case we are not talking about the use of a verb in a specific sentence, so 2. is correct.

  • Is 'used as the verb' correct too? – dan Dec 27 '17 at 1:27
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    It can be correct depending on the context, but a specific usage must be mentioned, e.g. "In the following sentence the word 'fool' is used as the verb as well as the subject and object: Can the fool fool a fool?". Obviously that's a bit tortured so it would be rare to see the "used as the verb". – John Davis Dec 27 '17 at 3:14
  • @John Davis Does this 'rule' concerns a countable singular noun following 'as'? Here, on ELL, it has been often said that such a noun following 'as' does not need an indefinite article, as it indicates a 'role' rather than something countable and unspecific. – Giorgi Dec 27 '17 at 11:13
  • It needs an indefinite article. I agree with John Davis. – Nick Dec 28 '17 at 8:44
  • @Nick This is why the answer has still been a matter of controversy to me: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/56992/… If 'as separator' is possible why 'as verb' is 'incorrect' and 'as a verb' 'correct'? – Giorgi Dec 28 '17 at 9:34

Well, I don't know whether I agree with "as separator" as a situation in which the article can be dropped. In fact, even in the ones in those examples wherein I agree that it can be dropped, it's only optional in my mind to drop the article; therefore, if I were you, I would just put in the article after "as" to be on the safe side. Here are some examples:

"I'm as giddy as a school girl (is)."

"You are thought of as a better candidate than he (is)."

"As the manager of this store, you should know better."

"I'm as old as the Queen of England (is)."

"Think of me as the king." (optional in my mind)

"I'm acting as the mediator." (optional in my mind)

"He's thought of as (the) judge, jury, and executioner." (usually no article, but there can be one.)

"I thought you were going to help me out as a friend (would do)."

From what I see, Giorgi, and I'm no expert on articles, but I'm a native speaker, it appears that the articles are usually optional when "as" is used as a preposition, rather than as a conjunction, and especially when a job position or position of power is involved. Notice how I said "the" is optional in "Think of me as king" or "I'm acting as mediator", but it must be a position of power such as a position in a job; it can't be something like "a witch" or "an idiot" because those are not jobs: "Think of her as the witch of the neighborhood"; "She's often thought of as an idiot."

Again, I sort of just know when it sounds correct and when it doesn't sound correct; I am not an expert on articles by far, but I'm just going to tell you that, when in doubt, use the article because most of the time when an article is dropped, the article is merely optional in this situation and, thus, can be added if the speaker should so desire. As of right now, I can't think of an example wherein it is never used. Furthermore, should the articles be your biggest hurdle right now to perfecting your understanding of the language, then you're doing a great job. Remember that if you should add an article that shouldn't be there, you're still going to be understood by everyone. The error is not going to detract from your statement very much, if at all, nor will it make it unintelligible. Furthermore, no native speaker is going to jump back and gasp at such a minute mistake except the most extreme of pedants. English has a lot harder rules than when to use an article; you should concentrate on those ones right now and not concern yourself so much with this unimportant one so long as you have most of the rule down. I'm not advocating that you drop all articles whatsoever as that would cause problems, but a missing article here or there or an extra one here or there is not going to hurt.

I hope this might have helped you out. Take care and good luck.

P.S. I should mention, as I'm sure you are already aware of, that uncountable nouns don't normally use articles:

"The man is as ethereal as fog rolling in from the sea."

Also, I agree with John Davis' answer above regarding the fact that "verb" is not a proper, mass, or plural noun, so it must have an article above; however, part of my answer above is meant to explain that native speakers do drop the article in certain other situations regardless of whether or not it be considered correct English. It's just a fact that they do do this and it often appears to happen in positions of power that only have one position possible: ("I'm acting as director." (manager), (king), (viceroy), (mediator), (president), (mayor), etc.) This is just how it is sometimes said; I'm not advocating that it's necessarily correct in formal speech or writing. My guess is that it is almost functioning as if it were a proper noun, so that may be why this is the case ("I'm acting as King or Mayor of this town").

  • Could In 'I'm acting as the mediator', 'the' suggest to a reader/listener the thought that 'I' am the only mediator between the sides? In other words, am I free to use or rather, choose some/a zero article to best express an intended thought rather than straightforwardly following a 'rule' saying an article is optional in this construction? P.S. Yes, your answer has helped me a lot. Thank you, and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you. – Giorgi Dec 29 '17 at 15:43
  • I have heard people say, "I'm acting as mediator in this matter." I'm assuming the article is optional, at least to them, because the job is just for that specific purpose. I'm not entirely sure, Giorgi; I'm just telling you that they're both said. I'd have to do some research to get a precise answer, but, in that sentence, people do sometimes use the article and sometimes don't. – Nick Dec 29 '17 at 17:10
  • I agree with John Davis' answer above. It usually has to be one of those three noun types. There are situations with certain jobs in which the article is sometimes dropped by native speakers, but I think he has the main rule above. I've shown you that some native speakers will drop the article with "mediator" in that sentence, but the article "the" is used there as well. It's usually when there can only be ONE as a possibility; no other mediators are possible. It's the same when they say something like "king" above. There's only one king, but one could still use "the" before "king" as I would. – Nick Dec 29 '17 at 17:23
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    I've added a brief explanation in italics to try to explain this phenomenon, Giorgi. I am not 100% sure that I am right, but someone will call me out, should I be wrong. – Nick Dec 29 '17 at 17:42

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