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I've just read Chuck Palahniuk's "Fight Club", and I wonder why there are no definite article in his first rule of fight club definition?

"The first rule of _ fight club is you don't talk about _ fight club."

Are they just skipped by the author or may be there is any rule I don't know?

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    Note your first words: I've just read Chuck Palahniuk's "Fight Club" - not The Fight Club. There's no such thing as a "rule" dictating which proper nouns get an article (like The Taj Mahal, The FBI, The CIA) and which don't (like Marble Arch, MI5, Fight Club). Effectively, the rule you don't know is that there is no rule in play here. Proper nouns are more or less "arbitrarily" named, in accordance with the wishes of whoever is in a position to bestow the name in the first place. – FumbleFingers Jul 4 '18 at 12:36
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    Am I the only one tempted to downvote all of the posts here for talking about Fight Club? – Robert Columbia Jul 4 '18 at 16:27
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    Are you sure it's not "The first rule of Fight Club..." in which case it becomes obvious that it is a proper noun? A quick Google search shows most of the quotes title casing the words. – Octopus Jul 4 '18 at 19:18
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    The first rule of English Language Learners is... ;) – Tetsujin Jul 5 '18 at 13:37
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"Why there's no definite article in “The first rule of fight club” before the last noun?"

You mean, why does it not say "The first rule of the fight club...."?

The answer is simple - "Fight Club" is a noun. It is the name of the club.

Let's say for example that there was a swimming club called "Swim Club". You may refer to this either as:

  • Swim Club, or
  • the swimming club

I don't really know if there is such a thing as a fight club, but lets say for example that you took away the word "fight". He could have said:

The first rule of the club is....

But he didn't, because he referred to the club by its name.

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    To be honest, I don't understand the difference between "fight club" and "fighting club". – pensnarik Jul 4 '18 at 12:57
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    @pensnarik the idea is that it could have been called "Banana Club", "Flower Power" or "Detroit Club", but in this case its called "Fight Club". Its a very descriptive name, but a valid one. – Ander Biguri Jul 4 '18 at 15:03
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    A better comparison is with "Steve's Club". In the case of @AnderBiguri comment, it still sounds fine to say "The Detroit Club" as there may be multiple. But Steve only has only club. – Slava Knyazev Jul 4 '18 at 18:56
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    @SlavaKnyazev : I know Steve; he's a member of several Steve's Clubs and Steves' Clubs. Sadly, I'm not a steving expert, so can't join. – Eric Towers Jul 4 '18 at 20:18
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    @pensnarik in this case "Fight Club" is a noun, it's the name of the club. The two words represent a single entity, "fight" is not an adjective of "club", it's part of the noun. I think a better example would drop the "'activity'club" format. To better illustrate: if you had an arts club called "Super Painters" you would say "The first rule of Super Painters[...]" without any "the" in front of the name of your club. – Alexandre Aubrey Jul 4 '18 at 20:21
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You may find this article useful, Dropping the Definite Article. However, please be aware that, as @FumbleFingers has pointed out, there really isn't a set of rules that you can apply in all situations that will tell you when you can drop the definite article. English grammar is peppered with various rules for all sorts of things, and usually they are followed by a list of exceptions to those rules.

To quote Captain Barbossa from 'Pirates of the Caribbean":

[Rules are] more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.

We native speakers usually 'know' the rules from regular usage. When we are speaking, we don't have time to apply lists of rules, so we say what sounds right to us based on what we have heard, said, learnt and internalised over many years. Which explains why we sometimes speak ungrammatically.

If you look at section 2 of the link above, you will see that the definite article is usually left out after proper nouns (except when it isn't). Proper Nouns are the names of persons, places, organisations, etc., and the first letter in each word of that name is spelled with a capital letter. All quotes that I could find on-line show the following:

"The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club."

Please note that Fight Club starts with capitals. I have not read the book, so I cannot confirm if that is how the author spelled this name. It would appear that the author followed the convention that the definite article is not required before proper nouns.

  • Thank you for your answer. I think I was confused because I didn't understand that it actually was a proper noun because author mentioned "fight club" in the book without capitalizing the first letters. – pensnarik Jul 4 '18 at 13:38
  • @pensnarik - Have you got an example of a quote in the book where it isn't capitalized? I'm just curious as to whether it's an error or a subtly different usage. – Guy G Jul 4 '18 at 14:32
  • I only assumed that Fight Club was a proper noun, as a name such as that usually is. The author may have deliberately not given the fight club an actual name. Part 3 of the article that previously linked to, shows that some name word, which are not proper nouns,don't have a definite article in front of them, (e.g. We say, "I am going to work' not 'I am going to the work.'). The words that have this property have to be learned by rote, there is no specific rule that applies to them. Chuck Palahniuk may simply have decided to use 'fight club' in this way. There is no rule that says he can't. – James Jul 4 '18 at 15:08
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My take here is a different to the "proper name" one: while the use of a proper name (which would be uppercased) would indeed warrant not using an article, I think that here it's more the use as a domain qualifier which makes this sound better without an article.

That would be comparable to "in heaven" or "in love and war".

You also have sayings like "what happens in $x, stays in $x". This construct makes clear that neither a particular instance of $x nor an unqualified instance of $x are intended, but rather some general domain encompassing all instances of $x.

While this domain-specific drop of an article is most prevalent with "in" (cf "in transit", "in orbit", "in school"), it can be used with other constructs.

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