To an English learner, how to use articles (a, an, the) is one of the most difficult things.

Today, I heard an reporter on the radio told about an carnival in New Orleans. He said:

"The little Rascals parade is the largest of the kid parades with nearly 20 floats, marching bands, dancing groups, and Cajun Indians on horseback".

Can I use on the horseback instead of on horseback?


Well, on horseback is something called a set phrase which basically means that it's completely fixed in form and can't be changed. You can also think of it as a type of adverbial and, in the English language, adverbial expressions tend to leave out articles in places where you would normally expect them to be (typically in front of nouns). For example: on foot, on point, on target, in fact, in demand, in use and literally thousands of other expressions because English is just chock-full of them. But this only applies to situations where we are talking about the way you are riding your horse—you are riding it sitting on its back. I'm not sure if there are situations where you can say on the horseback, but that would certainly mean something different. So, Cajun Indians on horseback is correct English while Cajun Indians on the horseback is not correct English.

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    There aren't really any situations where you can say on the horseback. It would always be on the horse's back with the definite article. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 3 '18 at 15:46
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    ... or on the back of a horse :o) – Will Crawford Feb 3 '18 at 19:16

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